Working with Generation Y

Anita Roubicek, Daniel Midson-Short, April 2012 - During the next 10 years practice owners will face a unique challenge. On top of running their practice successfully in a competitive market, they must also contend with a whole new breed of employee. The young ‘Generation Y’ are fast becoming an increasingly important part of the working world and will soon dominate new applicants and junior staff roles in most industries.

Generation Y is a term used to encompass the generation born in the 1980s and early 90s. They have grown up in a time of economic bliss and are usually described as:

  • having a reputation for being somewhat peer-oriented and having tight social networks due to easier facilitation of communication through the technology that has come of age at the same time as they did (email, texting, and IM and new media used through websites like YouTube and social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter).
  • people who switch jobs frequently, due to their great expectations of the workplace.
  • assertively seeking more feedback, responsibility, and involvement in decision making.
  • having a global and ethical consciousness that drives their behaviour.

Their values of commitment and what is important in life are unique and may at times seem bizarre to people not in that age bracket. Generation Y are changing the way the world works and many of us feel unsure about how to manage this change.

For the practice owner, it is vitally important to better understand how this generational difference may affect your business and how to support and get the best from our Gen Y employees.

Its confidence, not arrogance

Gen Y are a particularly (some might say ‘annoyingly’) self-confident generation. Owing to encouragement to express themselves from a young age, they tend to confidently share their ideas and opinions in the workplace. This is in sharp contrast to previous generations who have spent years keeping their heads down and mouths shut before they were finally allowed the privilege of contributing.

You may find that the young people in your team sometimes have a tendency to challenge instructions, offer too many suggestions or tell you that they know someone who does things differently. This self-confidence may make them appear to you as arrogant upstarts. However, it is simply their way of trying to be of value to you.

They crave respect and recogniiton

Gen Y workers work better in an environment where their voice is acknowledged regardless of their age or years of experience. If the ideas they share are of value, then try them out; if not, it is still important that they are at least listened to. Some of Gen Y’s expectations may need to be re-aligned to match the reality of your company. Being willing to listen to their point of view will help you to do this.

Socialising isn’t wasted time

As a business owner, you might sometimes not see the point in your staff having a ‘social life’ at work. After all, you are paying them to do a job and they don’t need to waste time with idle chat to do it! This is true in theory, but Gen Y workers see the situation a bit differently. Generation Y individuals thrive on their social connections. They depend on their friendships for their sense of fun, trust, community and their identity.

While employees are paid to do a job and not socialize, a work environment that leaves little or no room for building social relationships can become cold and has been identified as a key reason why Gen Y’s will leave a company. Employers need to realize that an employee with friends at work will be less likely to leave.

A savvy employer can channel the GenY need for social connections and interactions at work in ways that are not disruptive to the day and in ways that can be constructive for the business, for example:

  • Ask them to work together on projects for the practice (marketing, staff meeting agendas, trainings,etc);
  • Have team training days that include a lot of interaction and use these times to have purely social/ practice bonding lunch;
  • Wherever possible, try to create a friendly, social environment for the people who work for you. This could be in the form of asking them about their life outside work, taking time to have team social days, or just taking a few minutes here and there for a small chat.
  • Organise a regular social drinks after work (for example last Friday of the month);
  • Incentivise them to use their social networking knowledge and following constructively for the benefit of the office:
    • managing the practice Facebook account;
    • a staff member with 1000 friends on facebook or twitter followers has a loud megaphone that could be harnessed and incentivised to advertise promotions for your practice (hiring, whitenings, deals, etc) and other practice news (a new dentist/hygienist starting).

All of these suggestions will not just help satisfy the Gen Y employees need for social interactions and connectivity it will also hopefully be helpful for to the practice.

Don’t look at job switching as ‘flakiness’

Generation Y are renowned for their shorter tenures in each job. As an employer regularly having young staff leaving your practice after 12 or 18 months can be very furstrating; especially when you have just spent this time getting them trained up and integrated! It seems as though they are being ungrateful and flaky. Research has shown that this behavior in Generation Y recruits is often because they are seeking variety and new challenges.

A key feature of Generation Y is their seeming distaste of excessive routine and structure. They learn and adapt quickly and seek a workplace where they can learn, grow and be mentored.

Finding ways to offer your Gen Y staff more variety and new challenges will be key to helping retain them longer term working on your team. For example:

  • Give them a career path- not just a job: Gen Y individuals always look to the horizon while working in the current situation. If you can set it up that they have a career and ongoing development with your practice, you will gain more commitment and buy-in from Gen Y employees;
  • Provide cross-training in other roles in the practice, thereby providing new tasks, responsibilities and extended duties outside of the usual job description for their role
  • Find ways to challenge Gen Y employees by providing them with ongoing continuing education that benefit your practice;
  • Regulary let them know how the work they do contributes to the bigger picture – (the growth and success of your business);

All of these are suggestions that if implemented should be of as much benefit to the practice as the employee (if not more so)

Technology isn’t a foreign object

A big part of the life of every Gen Y is their link to technology, particularly in terms of communication; text messaging, email and online chatting are just another form of talking for Gen Y. If your practice tends not to use email, or use computers for booking appointments, or if all your technology is 10 years behind the times, you may find it hard to attract Gen Y staff in the long term.

Keep your practice image up to date

Image and social status are big draw-cards for Gen Y. If they believe your company to be a ‘cool place’ to work, you are likely to attract and keep more of them.

Companies like Virgin and Apple are leading in their fields today mostly because they have tapped into the ‘cool’ consciousness of Gen Y consumers. They have a breezy, no-fuss style that is up-to-date and evolving. You can use this same ethos in your practice, simply by updating your décor, having reasonably recent music playing, using current technology and having smart uniforms for staff.
Asking Gen Y staff what they believe would improve the image of the practice may provide valuable insights for you and even if you can’t adopt all the changes they suggest, perhaps a few steps towards them would help.

Burden or opportunity

The unique needs and desires of Generation Y is a reality that every employer is going to face in growing frequency. It is important that practices don’t look at their quirks as a burden to bear but as an opportunity to grow. If practices learn to navigate, cater roles to and channel the energies of Gen Y employees they will find that their practices will thrive.

Upcoming Workshops

A quick overview of the next few workshops we'll be hosting.