Getting to know Generation Y can benefit your business in the long run.

Welcome Generation Y! That’s right everyone, Generation Y has infiltrated your companies and it’s about time that you start understanding it a little bit more.

Generation Y’ers may be in your warehouse, at your counter or on your inside sales team. Wherever they are, I’m sure you’ve noticed they’re a bit different. For the purposes of this article, I’m defining Generation Y as people born between 1983 and 1994. Some have a later end date, but in terms of what you’ll be dealing with in the industry, I’ll limit it to those who are 18 years and older. As a Generation-Y’er myself, I feel that it’s my responsibility to explain a little about the way this generation thinks.

First, let’s try to understand this generation a little bit. It does not remember a pre-Internet life. Whether Generation Y’ers were born after the invention and popularization or they were toddlers when it rose to prominence, the Internet has been the leading force in their lives. Most of this generation used the Internet to research, learn and study all throughout its schooling. It doesn’t know the hardships of going to the library and finding sources and flipping rapidly through pages for quotes. Most of this generation uses Dictionary.com far more than it ever used an actual dictionary. The Encyclopedia Britannica is a website and software that is downloaded to the computer, not a compendium of knowledge spread out over 32 volumes.

Computers rule this generation. Most Generation Y’ers haven’t handwritten anything since grade school and don’t remember a time when Google didn’t have all the answers. This generation was growing up during the original dot-com boom when Microsoft, Google and Apple were all rolling out products and services to make the lives of the general population easier. This worked out well for Generation Y as it only remembers this easier life.

The first smartphone with email capability was introduced in 2002, which means that even the oldest members of this generation have used these devices for a third of their lives. Generation Y is used to always having the answer to any question in the palm of its hand. If two people are having an argument over a fact, all it takes is a quick Google search and the argument is resolved. Generation Y is heavily influenced by this idea. Resolution should be quick and succinct; everything else in its life is.

What does this mean for you?

How do all these things affect your employees and how you treat them? Let me hit on a few bullet points of how this generation acts.

Generation Y is not comfortable with direct communication. This may seem counterintuitive to its desire for resolution, but the problem is not with the need for resolution, but actually the way of attaining it. This generation communicates on email, via text, on Facebook or on Google Chat. When faced with direct confrontation, they tend to be shy, nervous or quiet. Generation Y isn’t used to calling someone on the phone or meeting with someone in person. This is something that you must address!

When you’re training your employees on product knowledge or sales techniques, remember that the younger ones don’t even know how to make a professional phone call or do any type of cold call. Some may be blessed with natural personality skills, but in general, this generation lacks the day-to-day usage of any of these skills. Most of this generation wants to deal with all conflict via email and feel that when someone calls or approaches them that they’re being attacked. It’s a fight or flight reflex for no other reason than lack of experience.

Generation Y knows more about computers than you. As I said, this generation doesn’t know about a pre-computer world. During the most influential learning stages of life, this generation was on a computer. They didn’t need to take typing classes because they’ve always known how to type. Generation Y’ers can troubleshoot a faulty printer or a computer virus in their sleep. They have experience with computers whether it’s playing video games or checking Facebook every five minutes. With this knowledge comes arrogance. They may be able to do something faster than you, but that does not mean they are doing it better than you. This is why all their work needs to be checked. This generation is famous for typing things in shortform. (e.g., lol, jk, thnx), which means that grammar and professionalism may not always be paramount for them.

Generation Y has been coddled its whole life. This is as much an indictment on the generation as it is on the parents. This is a generation of helicopter parents, anti-bully campaigns and participation awards. This generation doesn’t understand the need for experience or for knowledge. Generation Y’ers have been told they’re important since day one. In Little League they got a trophy for showing up. In school they got awards for showing up every day. If they got a ‘C’ in school, their parents would call the school and complain to the teacher. Now, as their employer, it’s not your job to continue this coddled lifestyle, but it is your responsibility to understand it. True punishment will be foreign to them so it needs to be explained. Knowledge, skill and experience will have to be part of your mission statement when dealing with them. Explain that being able to do something faster does not mean that they’re doing something better. This generation is highly susceptible to making mistakes because it does everything so quickly, and in the past there were not qualitative penalties.

Generation Y is easily distracted. Working on a single task is very difficult for Generation Y’ers. They’ve been multi-tasking their entire lives (texting on the phone while checking Facebook and playing a video game). Now, maybe they are filling out an Excel spreadsheet while reading an article on CNN.com. Doing a single task now leads to distraction, which hinders productivity. Don’t limit them to one task when they can handle more than one at time.

Now that you know all of this, what does it mean for you? Every generation believes that it’s the chosen generation. It believes it’s new, different and going to lead the world. Every generation is right. Right now the babyboomers, as predicted, are running this world, and soon it will be the Generation X’ers and then after that the Generation Y crowd. There is no denying it, there is no delaying it. There is only dealing with it. As the current leaders of the industry, it’s very important to teach the next generation and the best way to do that is to learn about it.

Currently Generation Y’ers may seem lazy and unmotivated. Everyone has been there. Their lives have been at their fingertips since the start, and now that they have to go out and do something on their own, they’re having a difficult time. This is a smart generation with a lot of abilities and skills, but it lacks direction, focus and some basic communication skills. Talk to them, teach them and lead them. You will be glad you did!

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