Talkin’ ‘bout Y Generation


As managers build teams, they must increasingly consider the presence of a new generation thriving under constant social stimulation. The GenY-ers are already shaking up traditional ways of working.

Different ages are rubbing shoulders at the workplace in unprecedented ways. There have, of course, always been differences between generations, but those born during and after the 1980s – dubbed Generation Y – are now challenging traditional management models.

"Never before has there been a situation in Finnish office life where companies have had large numbers of employees in their 30s working alongside people in their 60s. And more often than ever, people of different generations are working on the same teams," notes Timo Helosuo, CEO of the Management Institute of Finland.

Helosuo says, half-jokingly, that those born in the 1970s and earlier differ from those in Generation Y in their travel behaviour: while on a business trip, the first group tends to inquire about free gin and tonics, while those in the younger generation wonder whether there is free wi-fi on offer.

Helosuo reflects that those born in the 1970s and earlier may prefer a bit more peace and quiet, and see continuous online chatting as an obstacle to thinking about the bigger picture.

"But I can assure you that these chatters are excellent professionals who can certainly handle the overarching concepts as well," he says.

Buddy lists as networks

Some companies have tried to prevent employees from chatting at work. Helosuo, a former executive at Nokia and Accenture, suspects that these bans have been set by people who are used to doing and thinking about one thing at a time, and are unable to work any other way.

"It’s unbelievable how differently young people communicate among themselves, compared to the way in which companies still primarily communicate. Think about, let’s say, a 30-something product development engineer who runs into a work problem. He or she may check which contacts are online and get an answer by chat within a couple of minutes," says Helosuo.

As Helosuo sees it, one of the strengths of GenY-ers is their amazing ability to network.

"The truth is that kids in school today already have a lot of people in their networks whom they’ll later meet as colleagues and customers – locally and worldwide."

Thanks to their networks, young people are also constantly up-to-date about what kinds of opportunities may be opening up for them at other companies. They are less committed to their workplaces than older generations and they are ready to move around to find interesting tasks through which they can develop themselves.

"This is also a significant challenge for managers," Helosuo notes.

Smells like team spirit

Generation Y is already shaking up traditional ways of working.

"Young people who have grown up with the Internet value speed and directness. They don’t accept hierarchies and processes that disrupt the flow of information. For them, the fact that it’s Monday is not enough of a reason to have a Monday meeting. This can be unsettling to an older supervisor who sees the regular Monday meeting as a way to maintain team spirit and his or her authority."

In some corporations, the generation gap has been resolved by putting younger people into their own units. For instance, game coders and design people often form homogeneous groups in terms of age and goals. According to Helosuo, in the long run it is often better to place these players in various parts of the organisation instead, particularly in sales and marketing.

Helosuo adds that conflicts aren’t altogether bad; they may also bring healthy dynamics into an organisation.

"Without various kinds of collisions of ideas and perspectives, nothing new is ever born – and in this respect, Generation Y is a blessing for all innovative companies."

Text by Jorma Leppänen

A longer version of this article was published in Finnair´s Blue Wings magazine (Dec 2012).

Published November 28, 2012

Category: Corporate Responsibility