For 14 American generations, the phrase ``younger generation'' is usually used in a sentence filled with frustration, disdain or sheer bewilderment.
We've all heard it: ``It's their music, their clothes, their hair, their total lack of appreciation for money, their lack of work ethic, their lack of understanding of how hard our generation had it. They just don't get it!''
Maybe we've heard it said of our generation, and maybe we'll sheepishly admit to being old enough to have actually said it about one of the ``younger generations.'' Well, there is a new generation of global citizens born in the late seventies and early eighties-Generation Y-and they just might get it!
In my Jan. 6 Tire Business column, I addressed Generation Xers-those born from 1965 to 1979-and what makes them tick. That group was described as fiercely independent because growing up they had to face daily problems while relying on their own thought processes and abilities. Often the products of divorced parents and dual incomes, they were the first generation where being a ``latchkey kid'' wasn't unusual.
Gen-Xers graduated during a time of downsizing, re-engineering, restructuring-and if they personally weren't affected, they probably knew someone who was displaced.
So who are their alphabet counterparts in Generation Y? I know you're familiar with them: Your children, grandchildren or your babysitter may be a member of this generation. There are 29 million Gen-Yers who have entered the work force in the last five years. They are the younger siblings of Generation X and the children of the baby boomers-those born between 1946 and 1965.
The demographers disagree on the date parameters of Generation Y-either 1978-1988 or 1978-1984. Regardless of their dates, this generation's statistics are interesting:
* Approximately 80 percent of students in the U.S. held jobs during the school year in 1998, according to 1998 numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor.
* Nearly half of 12th graders work more than 20 hours a week according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
* Fifty-one percent of teens work in the retail industry, including fast-food outlets.
* Thirty-four percent work in the service industry, including health, education, entertainment and recreation, according to the Department of Labor.
Despite some of the media's presentation of this generation, the facts indicate this group has lowered the rates of teen arrests, drug use, drunk-driving accidents, pregnancies, abortions and high school dropouts.
Gen-Yers are described as positive, confident and full of self-esteem. Many attribute this to their excellent relationship with their parents (according to studies conducted by Newsweek magazine and for a CBS news show) and to their fearless and instant access to information via the Internet.
They are the generation that believes education is great and learning is life-long, and they're making choices to attend college at ever-increasing rates.
One in three of them is a non-white minority. They are leading the way to a more tolerant society, experts say. They don't judge a book by its cover. Talent is their resounding judgment factor.
They are an altruistic generation that considers volunteerism a way of life.
Unlike their predecessors, they haven't lived through ``The Big One,'' The Cold War or The Vietnam War. Worse, however, they have lived through crack cocaine, the U.S. becoming the focus of terrorism, school shootings and frequent abductions. Yet, as a whole, they remain resilient.
Work force challenges
What challenges do the employees from this generation present to tire dealerships, and how can we attract them?
Gen-Yers desire to play meaningful roles in a work place that helps others. They will join an organization because they want to-not just because they need a job. Thus, in a tire dealership they'd likely be attracted to working within the operation to help employees solve operational problems.
Another good use of their talents could be having them assist salesmen with customer problem identification. They could take their technological expertise, for instance, and develop a tracking mechanism to show how the tires and service you offer will diminish problems customers might be having with their vehicles.
Gen-Yers crave ``connections'' and group projects that allow them to work with talented colleagues.
This is a desire that other generations don't necessarily possess. Many generations just want ``to be left alone so they can do it themselves.'' However, Gen Y'ers have spent 20 percent of their youth by themselves because of divorce and dual income families. Thus, they often prefer working in a group to solve some of a dealership's tougher problems.
This generation plans to make as much or more money than their parents. They are willing to work to meet your designated goals, somewhat uptight deadlines and outlined parameters. Then they expect the monetary rewards to follow.
Thus, tying their performance to your goals-be they profitability, sales levels, expense reduction, inventory turns etc.-is highly suggested.
Gen-Yers have often been over-supervised.
Unlike the previous latchkey generation who often came home to an empty house, this generation participated in before- and after-school activities. Therefore, they may need management coaching in how to take a large project and develop it into a series of smaller tasks with deadlines.
Because of their liking for groups, your dealership may want to consider hiring two employees from the same school or company so they have a built-in friendship within the company.
State-of-the-art technology is almost a prerequisite to hiring a Gen Y'er. However, if your dealership does not possess this, hire them to help you become cutting edge or to train your employees on the full use of your existing technology.
Retaining `fresh minds'
Once you've hired them, you need to focus on keeping these fresh minds active and engaged.
Retention of this generation is critical for the future success and growth of companies. Many times we expend much effort in hiring someone and then give little or no thought regarding his or her trainer or mentor.
Remember, this is a sought-after group of young minds. We need to avoid these obvious organizational pratfalls to maintain this talent.
Let's talk about the type of superior, boss, mentor or trainer you don't want to team with Gen-Yers.
They've grown up with a seemingly infinite amount of information at their fingertips and therefore can often think of multiple points of view or approaches. Therefore, they do not understand a close-minded boss who never listens to a new approach.
Bosses with ineffective delegation skills are puzzling to this generation. Give them the project, your expectations, maybe even help them with the time frames and then let them go at it.
This generation is quick to forgive any lack of competence as it relates to technology. However, if you are the boss, they expect a high level of competence in the core areas of business knowledge.
They expect you to be able to train them in these core competencies. They want to be teamed with a smart person and really don't care what that person's title is within the organization.
They want a mentor that genuinely likes younger people and judges them on their talents, not on their outward appearance. Treating this generation like they can't do something or don't know anything because they are too young is an instant frustration for them and, in the long run, could prove to be harmful to your business, as well.
Lastly, do not assign them to the ``organizational tyrant.'' These Gen-Yers have learned through school, home and the media to never let anyone abuse them...and they've learned their lessons well.
Be honest with yourself. Every organization has at least one of these tyrannical personality types working in the group.
We usually keep them because of their knowledge of the business or because they have one particular valuable skill that we think we ``can't live without.''
Go ahead and keep them. Consider putting the tyrant in a back room (alone with all of their knowledge) and feeding them under the door, so to speak.
But certainly, do not assign them to work with this new generation of Gen-Yers. You'll quickly discover it just won't work.
In a survey conducted last year of 5,000 American workers regarding their job satisfaction, the results indicated that only 51 percent were happy with their jobs-a reduction of 8 percent since 1995.
Survey participants ranged in age from under 25 to over 65.
Those surveyed noted a number of problems and offered some suggestions as well.
Only one in five employees were happy with their bonus programs, while only two in five were happy with their wages.
``There is more pressure on employees to produce, (which creates) more problems with maintaining a boundary between work and family,'' one person said.
``...Because of e-mail, voice mail, cell phones, it is difficult to maintain a boundary between work and the outside,'' according to another respondent.
One worker reported that his increased work satisfaction came with greater independence as he started his own business.
``I really want to be able to control more of the project, ...it makes my (work) more interesting and rewarding,'' a survey respondent noted.
One employee who was interviewed gave an excellent summary when he said he was happy with his salary but wished things at work could change. ``I'd like to be more active,'' he suggested. ``I'd like to feel like I had more power. I'd like to feel like I was more in control.''
Sound familiar? It sounds like a Generation Yer, right?
Actually, the worker quoted was a 66-year-old man. This new Generation Y expects from their work place what other generations have often dreamed of but never demanded.
Their expectations are not extreme. In fact, I would argue that they are just good business practices.
Hopefully, they will be a strong enough generation to cause a paradigm shift in the work place. And that's something from which all the generations will benefit.
If you have personnel-related questions you'd like Ms. Miles to address in future columns, e-mail her at [email protected] or use the ``Speak Up!'' card in this issue.