With three generations working side by side, there is bound to be friction in the workplace. I get so many great questions about intergenerational challenges that I decided to start an advice column called, Dear Generational Guru.
Here is a question I received just last week:
Dear Gen Guru,
I am a Gen X (1967) who fits the description of the laser focused sandwich generation. I recently (almost 2 years ago) hired a Gen Y (1982) employee who represents many of the aspects you described about that generation.
I err on the side of giving too much advice when delegating. My question about Gen Y is: why does Gen Y (generally) need so much down time? The Gen Y I know works as you described—she works hard for 2/3 hours, takes a break to chat, works 2 more hours, chats, works more hours, chats, and goes home. Her productivity on the core job is good, but she struggles with and pushes back on me the other 20% of the job, which is a very detail oriented catalogue.
Early on she wanted to meet her deadlines but when she saw I was lenient on deadlines, she began a pattern of more chatting and breaks.
I definitely helped cause the problem and now I am trying to salvage it. You probably get 30 questions a day like this, but I was so impressed with your presentation, that I wanted to be sure to get the benefit of your suggestions.
Frustrated Gen X Manager
Hi Frustrated Gen X,
Thank you for your question.
First of all, congrats on admitting that you helped cause the problem. That’s a huge step in the right direction!
It sounds like you have an interesting challenge, some of which may be generational and some of which may not be generational. I’d suggest having an honest conversation with the Gen Y employee, letting her know that 20% of her performance is being impacted. Be specific in the details, and empathetic in the tone. Ask her open-ended questions to hear her side of the story and truly listen to what she has to say, without judgment. Then work together to find a solution that will work for both of you and hold her accountable.
Here’s what I mean:
Have an Honest Conversation
When you sit down with your Gen Y employee, start by thanking her for the energy and effort she puts into the specific tasks where her productivity is good. Feedback is extremely important to Gen Y. Then mention to her that you are noticing one area where work habits are a little different. Next, move on to open-ended questions.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Let’s take a moment here to talk about open-ended questions. The goal of an open-ended question is to help an employee determine the problem and solutions by themselves. Starting questions with who, what and how allows this to happen. Starting questions with did, will, have and why actually shut down the conversation.
Examples of Open-Ended Questions
Here are some examples of open-ended questions you might ask your Gen Y employee:
• What are your thoughts about the catalogue?
• What questions do you have about the catalogue process?
• How do you feel about the catalogue being part of your core work?
• In general, what motivates and excites you?
• Where do you want to be in your career in the next few years?
This last question, “Where do you want to be in your career in the next few years?”
is effective because you may find a tie-in to what your employee wants to do, and the skills and experience needed to create the catalogue. Alternatively, you may find there is no tie-in at all, which could potentially alert both you and your employee that her role is not ideal as it stands now. The opportunity for personal growth is very important to the Millennial Generation, so it’s good to do check-ins to make sure you are providing those types of opportunities.
Truly Listen, Without Judgment
Truly listening to her speak will make a huge difference in developing trust. Plus, you may learn something! The rule of thumb in these situations is to speak 20% of the time and listen 80% of the time.
Examples of Possible Solutions
To help you brainstorm about some possible solutions to this problem, I want to give you four ideas:
- Give her something else that is not detail oriented, or is more motivating for her. Some people just aren’t detail-oriented; it’s not always an issue of disregard or generations.
- Find a way to motivate her based on her values so she understands the big picture and the purpose of the task. If she doesn’t understand the purpose of the project, she might not care. It’s important to Generation Y to contribute to something bigger, so try to give her that vantage point.
- Start the task together. There are many reasons an employee pushes back on a project, one being they don’t actually have the skill set to complete the task. This leads them to procrastinate, avoid the task, or work inefficiently.
- Have her collaborate with a colleague on the catalogue. You can designate the person she collaborates with, and decide if you think it will be beneficial for her to work with a member of a different generation than her, or a member of her own generation. The desire to collaborate is very important to Millennials. As an added bonus, this solution might allow her to integrate her want for socializing (seen in her “chatting” breaks) with the task she typically avoids.
Ask Yourself, Is It Worth It?
On your end, take a look to see if this task is in her job description. Also consider this—if she is doing 80% of her work well, making an issue of her work style might not be worth it. Every employee-manager relationship is different though, and organizations all have their own values and protocols. All of that will influence how you handle the situation. Just focus on truly listening and have an open mind when it comes to developing a solution that works for both of you. Once that solution is agreed upon, make sure to hold both you and your employee accountable.
I wish you the best of luck, Frustrated Gen X Manager! Hopefully your frustration will come to an end soon.
*The three generations in the workplace are Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980) and Generation Y, also known as Millennials (born 1981-2001).
Does your team need help with intergenerational management and communication? I can help. Check out my keynote and workshop, Engage Every Age.