By David Bates

A lot has been written about the perils of employing ‘Gen Y’ workers. Those born between around 1980 and 2000 certainly don’t enjoy the best of reputations when it comes to the workplace. But I think there’s plenty of exception to this ‘general rule’.

Last week I attended a law course and was, quite clearly, one of the oldest people there at the grand old age of 37. Most of my fellow attendees were in their early 20s, having recently graduated from some of the country’s best law schools.

At first I was a sceptical about my cohorts: lazy and ill-disciplined were among my initial (completely unfair) judgments. To be fair, I’ve represented plenty of very frustrated employers faced with ‘Gen Y employee issues’.

One that springs to mind is the 22-year old employee who claimed he was being ‘bullied’ and experiencing ‘psychological stress’ because my client had blocked access to Facebook in the office.

However, as the course unfolded, and my younger colleagues began interacting and engaging in discussion and debate, all my preconceived notions suddenly proved entirely misguided.

Sure, there were definitely some in the room who were quite content leaving the work to everyone else, but the vast majority were street-smart, courteous, driven, and sensitive. (Yes, tomorrow’s lawyers appear quite sensitive!).

Engaging in such a meaningful way with members of this much-maligned generation really opened my eyes, and made me re-think how we can get the very best from these eager, resourceful, and energetic employees in the workplace. Here are my thoughts:

  • Explain the importance of mundane tasks: this generation appears less willing to perform dull tasks unless they understand why they matter.
  • Communicate clearly: Gen Y appears (to me at least) to communicate via text message in short, sharp bursts. Long-winded explanations don’t seem to suit them – keep directions clear and concise.
  • Reward: instant gratification is the name of the game here. Gen Y is not going to wait five years for a pay rise and a pat on the back for a long, hard slog. Find ways to reward more often, and not just with money. Extra time off and even peer recognition will go a long way
  • Lead by example: gone are the days when employers could shout ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. Gen Y workers do want to respect their managers, but that respect needs to be earned and maintained.

While the law course was interesting, meeting Gen Y face to face was far more enlightening!