Undoubtedly you have, at some point, been exposed to someone from Generation Y (born 1978-2000). It could be in the form of a colleague, an employee, restaurant server or even one of your kids. Gen Y, sometimes referred to as Millienals, Gen Text, and Gen Why have a unique set of characteristics. These characteristics often leave others from other generations, mainly baby boomers, scratching their heads. Since most financial planning firms tend to be owned by baby boomers, and most new financial planners tend to be Gen Y’s, conflict and misunderstandings because of generational differences are common. Fortunately, many can be solved with a little intergenerational coaching!
If you’re a business owner struggling with some of the Gen Y tendencies, here are a few things to do to turn these tendencies to your favor in your practice:
- Asking ‘why’ they have to perform a certain task – When Gen Y’s ask why they have to do something, assuming it is framed in a non threatening way, they are really just wanting to know how their specific task fits into the bigger overall project. They want to know they are making a difference; so making sure they know how their contribution affects the deliverable or client situation is key. Explain it to them once and have them document it so when they move up, the next person won’t have to ask why.
- Insistence on leaving at 5 o’clock or flex scheduling – Gen Y’s disdain for logging long or weekend hours at the office is likely a result of hearing their parents say “don’t work all of the time like I am” and “there’s more to life than work.” From the Gen Y’s point of view, work and leisure should not mix (except when they get a text message at work!) It has been ingrained that jobs that offer typical work day shifts or even flex scheduling will lead to a better work/life balance which this group so desperately wants. I suggest having some flexibility here as long as the expectations are clear, the work gets done, and employees are available to respond to client needs. Furthermore, offering rewards such as leaving early on a certain day or time off is a terrific motivator for this group. Often, these have bigger impacts than financial rewards. Since this group is two generations removed from the Great Depression, they don’t have the same drive to accumulate money and have financial stability as their baby boomer parents.
- Preference for electronic vs face to face communication – Technology and being connected is a large part of a Gen Y’s life. Emailing, texting, twittering, and Facebook PMs (private messages) are preferred channels for communicating for this group. They were the first generation to grow up with email and instant messaging so they are used to getting answers immediately which allows them to move on to the next task and get closer to coveted leisure time. Be aware that the preference for these types of communication channels has thrust some Gen Y’s into the work force without fully developed interpersonal skills. Firm owners should be aware of this; in fact, for many planning firm owners, screening for interpersonal skills should be high on the list when looking to hire in the first place. On the other hand, this can also be an excellent opportunity to use the active technology-based communication skills of your staff to ensure quick turnaround on client issues!
- Not willing to take constructive criticism – When Gen Y’s were growing up they were often overly sheltered and built up by their parents as to not have to experience rejection. This was the generation where everyone gets a blue ribbon, just for playing! Many Gen Y’s have never experienced rejection, although we all know that rejection is a reality of life, especially in business. Do not refrain from giving constructive criticism as Gen Y’s need this to improve, but just be cognizant of the frequency and dosage. And don’t forget to give positive feedback where it’s due as well, as positive reinforcement is also valuable for shaping employee behaviors.
In the end, generational differences are a reality, but they don’t have to be a problem. Rather than looking at the ways that Generation Y may be different than their baby boomer firm owner counterparts, focus on ways to adapt the behaviors for the better. Whether it’s turning all the “Why” questions into an opportunity to documents processes and procedures for your office, or using the Gen Y focus on work/life balance to provide time-off incentives and bonuses rather than just resorting to paycheck bonuses, there are opportunities to incorporate Gen Y constructively into your practice.