Y is the Gap so Great?

Being in the training industry, I see that the generational gap is expanding, but believe I am one who truly gets it. I just happen to be one of those wise leaders who understand the next generation. So, I take the online quiz to see how close I mirror Gen Y. I was going to show my kids that I really do get it. I finished the quiz and out came the score: 11 out of 100. I proved I’m miles apart from how Gen Y works and views life. I wanted to know what has changed and where I have failed.

I decided to meet with a true Gen Y leader, Munaf Samji, CEO of The OGM to discuss what is happening in the workplace today. I show up with a pen and notepad in hand; he arrives sporting the most current iPad on the market. We both smile at our differences and realize this is just the beginning.

How Did It Change So Fast?

Our world is shifting faster than we can keep up with it on so many levels. Today the tools and technology are continually changing, as is the makeup of the audiences we serve: our employees. Not only are we being impacted by a technology-driven society and a multicultural workplace melting pot, but also add in the multigenerational factor to the mix, and chaos in the community is the only logical outcome. We have the baby boomers, with their own set of work ethics and analogies, looking to retire (one out of four will be 65 by 2036, Alberta Human Services report), and along comes the next generation with a different set of expectations: flipping roles every two to three years, and striving for more lifestyle balance.

Keeping the same old business model will not be sustainable in the workplace much longer.
It is estimated by 2025 that 75 percent of the global workforce will be made up of this new leadership group. The rush to figure out how to deal with the next generation is crucial as they are the future of the economy, and I’m certainly in it.

How do we get this figured out so jobs get done and people are engaged in the workplace, where the business community succeeds and the rewards are meaningful?

Start At Ground Level: Training In The Workplace

HR is often the first to deal with the changes in the work environment, and is 100 percent dedicated to employee needs. The people in that department have their hands on the pulse of what is happening; consequently, it is a great place to start my inquiry. The problem is how much time do they have to address the changes needed when their plate is already full?

I recently read a job description of an HR leader that was a page long. The expectations for what he or she was to do on the job required a cape and super powers. I thought to myself that it might even be easier to sign up to be prime minister than take on the duties of an HR leader. They typically not only have key tasks to manage, such as hiring and firing, managing stress leaves (on the rise today!), setting up effective evaluations systems, reporting on all employees and chains of command (… on and on it goes), but also are charged with making sure training gets done.

The problem is that training is not a code-red activity in most workplaces. It often gets seen as the fluff of an organization or an afterthought when the really important activities get done.

Throughout my own work with the Workplace Speaker Network, I’ve been quoted the following passages:

“I see HR leaders with too much on their plate and no time to do it all. I believe companies need an outside voice or extra hands to get the job done well. If a company wants to stop playing in the code-red zone, effective training practices (meeting the core needs of employees) are a great starting point. Training is key to engaging and integrating our next generation of leaders,”


“We as a business community need to open the discussion to talk about what the rules of the game are today: understanding intergenerational communication … not shove it under a rug and pretend all is well. All stakeholders including Gen Y need to be at the table to find solutions.”

Don’t Just Say It … Do It

The rush has already begun to not only talk about doing training, but to actually follow through in providing it. Over the years, companies have functioned by hiring employees and expecting them to show up and just “get er done,” without any hands-on training. The attitude then was, “you were hired and now it’s your job to make it work.”

Gen Xers agreed to this rule and worked long hours, and took work home to survive. The fear of being fired or losing income was all they needed to follow the rules and expectations as assigned. The philosophy of doing whatever it takes is what was required. As parents teaching our children (Gen Y leaders), we sent them a message that said, “don’t let people treat you like this,” and they listened.

Oops … Did We Get It Wrong?

Gen Ys do not see themselves working 25 years for one company and sacrificing their lifestyle for a paycheck. Not happening. Traditional workplace rules (as Gen X has known it) have not been part of Gen Y’s language. Clarity of what the rules of the game are, plus clear expectations need to be the starting point. I am neither condoning poor work ethics nor suggesting we create a slack workplace to accommodate people who don’t want to follow the rules. I do, nonetheless, see a need to figure out how companies can establish a work environment that supports respect for all, attracts new employees, provides meaningful training, and sustains the growth of the business.

We need to determine the new rules and how best we can all play together in the sandbox of life.

I heard recently from a new manager (age 34), who shared with me that Gen Y employees do not exhibit the same level of common working knowledge as their predecessors. They don’t see the implications of how their choices impact the whole. Their mandate is to work to live, not live to work. We as a society need to find a formula that transfers the common knowledge that is required and allows the balance that Gen Ys are looking for to show up in workplaces.

Change is imminent. Clarity of what we all want is integral to making this happen.

Both generations must somehow shift to get on the same page. If Zappos can do it (have a lineup of cross generations who want to work for them by building a work-life balanced culture—“the work-life balance, happiness factor”) and still be profitable, their philosophy is worth exploring.

So, What’s Next?

Assess the Learning Needs of Your Organization.

When was the last time you welcomed all stakeholders in the learning food chain to have a voice? Stop viewing training at work as same old same old.

Explore creative learning opportunities to attract employee participation.

I work with companies who do formal training (expectations and systems), but also choose to stretch the traditional definition of training to include personal growth sessions, like art at work and dog training. When we focus on meeting the needs of employees, the work culture rapidly shifts: it becomes a fun place, and people are more willing to put in the time when their needs are met.

Start now by involving all stakeholders and listening to their needs.

Mentoring Programs, No Longer An Option.

Today, I see a hunger for new leaders who desire the opportunity to learn from mentors. This means finding leaders who accept the fact that gaps in knowledge exist, and are willing to be patient with newbies to answer their questions about the job and life, while remaining respectful and patient.

Companies need to plan mentoring programs to sustain their edge going forward.

Not only will it help the next generation of leaders understand how the company thinks, it will also improve communication across generations—a win-win solution.

Bring All Stakeholders To The Table

How can you solve the problem when you leave stakeholders out of the process? In many companies, decisions are made by the executive teams typically stacked with Gen X thinkers. If we know there are companies like Deloitte (rated as one of the top Gen Y hirers in North America) who are thriving, creating desirable workplace cultures, and still being profitable, the solution may be just around the corner.

Right now is the time to do something about getting on the same ship sailing into the future!

Asking the right questions, involving the right players, and creating forward-thinking policies will help us achieve our “get er done” philosophy.

So, after I swallowed the reality of my score, I opened my iPad, peeled the plastic off the screen, and readied myself to ask my 14-year-old (Gen Z?) to teach me how to use it!

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