Google and their rule of 20% which states one day a week, or 20% of any developers' time can be invested in projects they find innately interesting is now responsible for over 50% of their products and a very low turnover of Gen Yers in their workforce (Christensen, Anthony, Berstell, Nitterhouse, 2007). Clearly the University of Chicago graduate wants to go to Google as a result, and this scenario plays out in high tech companies globally all the time, as managers fail to realize the unmet needs of Gen Yers in their companies.
Gen Xers on the other hand are less likely to move from a job purely based on an imbalance of the Herzberg motivation-hygiene model (2003). In effect these unmet needs Gen Yers have only exacerbate the generation gap between themselves and their managers. Ironically managers who have Gen Yers in their work teams reporting to them often misinterpret these unmet needs as the need to be left alone and for independence (Avolio, Bass, 2004). As a result many turn to management-by-exception strategies that rarely provide solid feedback, and do not attempt to structure jobs for their optimal levels of fulfillment for Gen Yers (Kelan, 2008). What managers construe as the need for independence, Gen Yers interpret as indifference (Arsenault, 2004). An example of this is when a seasoned vice president of marketing was sent to Linksys, a recently acquired division of Cisco, to run all of analyst and investor relations, documentation, product marketing, public relations, and first-level customer support. The staff had over twenty employees, with over 80% being Gen Yers. The seasoned vice president of marketing had spent the last five years managing fellow Baby Boomers and a few Gen Xers, all of which were in sales and highly autonomous marketing positions. As a result the vice president had become very much of a believer in management-by-exception, relying on transactional leadership techniques including incentives and having strong transformational leadership ability in smaller teams. Yet the Gen Yers misread the management-by-exception approach as arrogance. This immediately created a lack of trust for the vice president of marketing and also set off varying reactions from the mostly Gen Y staff. From anger for lack of support to apathy as they interpreted their boss as only caring about his career, the department's morale eroded fast and key Gen Y de facto leaders of the group left. Others complained and eventually the vice president of marketing was replaced as productivity froze and conflicts escalated. What the vice president of marketing failed to realize was that Gen Yers did not respond to the occasional discussion of bigger bonuses or even of the enhanced Cisco benefits of stock ownership and stock options, all of which were major motivators for Baby Boomers and some of the Gen Xers he had managed in the past. This vice president of marketing failed because of perceptual blindness but also because he chose to rely on benefits and perks of being a Cisco employee and less about concentrating on the individual development needs each employee had. As empirical research indicates benefits are for the most part irrelevant as motivators to gen Yers (Clark, 2007) who are seeking work with greater purpose, and the opportunity to contribute as part of a collaborative team.
Effective management of Gen Xers and Gen Yers requires the ability to quickly navigate between a more active management-by-exception strategy as the exception, not the rule (Avolio, Bass, 2004). Instead, Gen Xers respond more to leadership that is a hybrid of transformational and transactional, with focus on the latter aspects of rewards for exceptional performance. Gen Xers are therefore consider rewards for exceptional performance of more value than their Gen Y counterparts. Where a manager's skill is tested however is balancing transactional leadership for Gen Xers and highly transformational leadership for Gen Yer's. Too much of a given focus on one or the other to the wrong group and morale can be impacted over time. Scaffolding (Najjar, 2008) is such a powerful learning strategy when coupled with the Internet that Gen Yers have over time set their minimum expectation levels at having this level of personalized mentoring and development. For any manager to meet these expectations, it takes an exceptionally high transformational leadership skill set and enough emotional intelligence to interpret situations and react to them appropriately (Arsenault, 2004). An example of this can be seen in a software start-up that was creating accounting software for small businesses who would lease access to it over the Internet. The development teams were predominantly Gen Yers who saw themselves as extreme programmers and software engineers, often working all night long on complex problems. The leader of the team was a Gen Xer who had extensive web development expertise, an exceptional work ethic and quick, sarcastic wit. He was perfect for managing a group of Gen Yers. Instead of promising big bonuses, stock options, or benefits (Clark, 2007) this manager instead gave the programmers a chance to earn excellent reputations in the industry by owning an entire application from initial coding to launch. He allowed them to run all aspects of development and for a Gen Yer; this was just what they wanted: meaningful work and independence. He also was tough on their programming skills and quality of work produced, and helped them learn new shortcuts in programming. He was implicitly trusted and soon the team had its own culture emerging which was completely different than the rest of the company. Within two years the team had produced over 50 modules, at one point outpacing marketing's ability to launch them and sales' ability to sell them. What happened was that the Gen X manager realized the Gen Y developers needed purpose and a bigger mission to go after and he gave it to them. He also realized they enjoyed working and at times competing with each other, and this brought the quality fo work for the entire team up. In short, the Gen X manager had tapped into the top criteria Gen Yers had for their careers and the result was exceptional productivity and most importantly, meaning in their work for Gen Yers.
Gen Xers vary significantly from Gen Yers in their expectations of a continual intellectual stimulation from their managers. Where Gen Yers expect to be challenged, their expectation is that the challenges for growth will be managed and tailored to them as have their learning experiences throughout their academic careers. The concept of scaffolding (Najjar, 2008) comes into play in the wide variation of expectations between Gen X and Gen Yers when it comes to continual intellectual stimulation on their jobs. The Gen Yers seek inspirational motivation from their managers however and have high expectations for their ability to manage a hybrid transaction and transformational leadership style (Auby, 2008). An example of this level of leadership can be seen in a Baby Boomer who is a director of marketing attempting to manage a group of Gen X and gen Y graphic artists. Gen Y artists want to get fulfillment from the artistic opportunities to make cutting edge creative designs for clients of the advertising agency they all work for. Gen Xers are more concerned about advancing their careers by getting on the fastest rising clients with the strongest brands. Gen Yer's in this department want to get respect for the knowledge but also want inspirational input from the director of marketing that is sincere. Again, the generation gap is so vast that the director of marketing has trouble relating to the dark and at times gothic-looking designs of the Gen Yer artists. Gen Xers are an easier fit for him so he spends the majority of time with them as he identifies with their ambition. This tends to create a schism in the department, with Gen Yers taking on more of the work to prove themselves and also seeking support, which they get, albeit generically and not targeted to their specific needs. This director of marketing does not have the emotional intelligence skill set to pick up on this issue of dropping morale as he seeks to identify and manage to ambitious subordinates. As a result the gen Yers who have exceptional technical skill over time become disillusioned and leave, taking with them the most advanced skill sets in computer-based design. This leaves the department scrambling for technical talent and in the end hiring a Gen Xer for double the salary of the departed Gen Yer.
It takes a highly unique and talented manager to navigate the differences between Gen X and Gen Y workers, as each has radically different needs and perceptions of what the workplace is. Gen Y workers have the most trouble with generation gaps as their perception of what matters in life is so completely different than their Baby Boomer and Gen X bosses that they often get frustrated and leave. Job hopping is how they progress their careers as they are much more mobile than Gen Xers. They look…