Managers go with the flow and connect with Gen Y

Connection with Gen Y saves managers grief

By:George Karasoulous


If  men are from Mars and women are from Venus, the same could be said for older managers and their Gen Y staff, and it isn’t simply a breakdown in communication. It’s a $20 billion headache for Australian business and it’s not going away in a hurry.

ABS statistics show that Gen Ys constitute 26 per cent of the Australian population and will be the main generation of workers over the next two decades.

The problem is, many bosses seem unwilling to adapt their management practices to harness Gen Y potential.

As the head of a professional development company, I’m amazed by the number of senior managers still locking horns with their younger cohorts. They constantly complain about the audacious (even rude) attitude of these self-obsessed upstarts. These managers are exasperated, and as a result their employees are disengaged and cynical.

And almost everyone is preparing to walk out the door.

One in four workers aged 20-24 will change jobs in any given year, while two-thirds of Gen Ys will switch workplaces at least every two years.

Their managers are following suit. In a recent survey of 1000 managers in Melbourne, 71 per cent expected to change jobs in two years and half said they’d be gone inside a year.

Clearly, the mismatch between managers and their Gen Y staff is contributing to Australia’s staff retention crisis-an issue that’s now the number one challenge for three-quarters of Australian businesses.

It doesn’t need to be this hard. Staff retention isn’t rocket science. Like any aspect of business, it’s about adapting to new challenges. With Gen Ys, it’s about forgetting the brickbat approach and turning up the love.

And I don’t say this to be cute.

Research shows that the Ys don’t have the same emotional awareness as older colleagues, but paradoxically expect greater emotional understanding — which leads me to a thing called Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, the art of tapping into your own emotions and the emotions of others to problem-solve and negotiate win-win outcomes.

Bosses who master their EQ reap the rewards of superior staff engagement and satisfaction, lower absenteeism and higher retention. And companies which build staff engagement generally outperform competitors, recording stronger three and five-year growth in revenues and profits.

For many, EQ can seem a little intangible at first. Here are five easy rules:

  • Invest in induction programs: The first two weeks are critical in determining whether new employees last beyond six to 12 months, so don’t just point to the loos and the kitchen and think that’s enough to align new staff with your organisational goals. Melbourne-based HR firm Performability recently conducted a three-month intensive onboarding program with a number of Australian firms, with productivity and engagement jumping up to 35 per cent.
  • Discard emotional baggage: Forget past experiences and approach every new staff member with a fresh, unbiased viewpoint. True, many Ys are frustratingly opinionated and self-aware. But they’re living in different times. They’re more formally educated (ie skilled) than any other generation, and we’re experiencing record low unemployment — so they can demand more and leave if unhappy.
  • Have courageous conversations: Don’t fear the Ys — fear creates arrogance, and arrogance means you often don’t ask little things such as “what motivates you? How can we work best together?” Explain how you like to work and clearly define your expectations, before asking what they need and expect from you.
  • Take staff development seriously: All too often staff appraisals and professional development are not given priority, and young employees can smell inaction a mile off. Also, don’t resent ambition — show support with structured pathways that will close the gap between current skills and career goals.
  • Encourage a work/life balance: Take advantage of current interaction tools, such as funky common areas where employees can relax, or dedicated Facebook time so that young employees can network. Gen Ys like short-term gains: small, regular rewards equal happy chappies in the office.

Tap into online surveys, read books or attend courses to enhance your EQ. You’ll quickly learn to use your emotions to influence others, solve problems and motivate Ys-staff retention woes could become a thing of the past.

George Karasoulos is a director of Skilled Up, which specialises in the design and delivery of innovative training programs

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