By Barbara Moses

When it comes to work motivation, much has been made in the past decade about how the newest generation of workers is so different from its boomer counterparts. For example, young workers are not cowed by authority, nor do they believe in their boss’s right to ask them to do things that don’t feel good. Their temerity throws many senior managers into a tailspin.

This should not come as a surprise to any boomer managers who have kids of their own. Gen Y-ers are a generation that has never experienced deprivation. They have come to expect comfort as their birthright from indulgent parents. Of course, they think they have as much to say as anyone else, that their feelings count, and that there is no reason to be automatically respectful of authority.

Many also see themselves as the abandoned kids of career-obsessed parents. They saw their parents worship at the corporate altar, only to be sacrificed on it. They have heard parents endlessly complain about what a jerk their boss or client is, and deride their ridiculous work overload. They have seen the price their parents paid for slavishly pursuing career goals. It’s not surprising they are ambivalent about work.

One key aspect of Gen Y-ers’ focus on lifestyle is the strength of their attachments and affinities outside the workplace, including greater allegiances to friends associated with their subculture — whether organized around ethnic background, lifestyle preferences or musical and fashion tastes. In defining their identities, this is as important to them, if not more so, than where they happen to work at the moment. They don’t park these identities at the corporate door.

For twentysomethings, the unwritten contract with their employer is understood at the most visceral level to be: “I rent you my skills, I don’t sell you my soul. In return for my contributions, I expect something back in addition to my paycheque — interesting development, and a work life that doesn’t encroach on my personal life.”

Clearly, managing this new generation presents its challenges. Boomers must recognize that young workers want many of the same things they do — it’s just that they’re more assertive about getting it.

Gen Y-ers may not believe in corporate loyalty, but organizations can leverage their strong peer attachments by fostering identification with colleagues who share similar interests. Consider, for example, the difference between the company seasonal party where top brass stand up and intone about year-end results and company goals, and enabling staff to create their own celebrations in line with personal preferences.

At the same time, organizations need to renew their commitment to work/life balance. Although this is a desire for everyone, Gen-Y workers will vote with their feet if they don’t get it.

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of  Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.  For more: www.bmoses.com

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