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Work Free or Die Broke: Can Gen Y Be Managed?

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Gen Y workers have had a rough ride in the media. They've been described as having a sense of entitlement and an overestimation of their own abilities, or worse still that they're ungrateful, attention-seeking, divas. It's all too easy to make generalizations and these are some of the negative stereotypes regularly attached to the generation born in the 1980s (approximately) or later. However, this generation of workers is more dynamic than ever before.

As Generation X and Boomers continue to dominate managerial roles, should they courageously transform the workplace to accommodate a new generation of thinkers and doers, or is it up to Millenials to conform to what has always been done? Should Gen Y be allowed to work 'free', as in within their own boundaries, or should they be managed?

From Bricklayers to Cathedral Builders

Ted Eytan tells the story of the difference in attitude between the mason who believes they're laying bricks, the mason who believes he's building a wall, and the one who believes he's building a cathedral. It's assumed that Generation Y workers believe they're cathedral-builders.

Millennials are growing up in a world quite different from their parents and in turn, want different things out of their work experiences, freedom, autonomy, flexibility, but it doesn't mean they are bad workers and can't be managed. They just need to be managed differently. They need consistent feedback and positive reinforcement with clearly defined understanding of accountability. Is it so much to ask for?

Herding Cats

Gen Y's see their work as less of a career and more of a way of life. It is possible to herd these 'independently minded creatures' all in the same direction. You just need the right catnip to do so.

91% of Millennials are expecting to stay in the same job for three years or less, according to Future Workplace and the reasons given include job hopping to gain promotion and the hope of finding an "interesting" workplace, with a "positive culture," that will make their work life more pleasant than their predecessors.

There isn't much a company can do with regard to promotion; either an employee is ready for it and the opportunity's there, or it isn't. However, managers can make changes to the workplace in an effort to keep these workers. Employee retention can increase dramatically with employee feedback. By instilling a culture of feedback and open channels of communication, a manager can keep this dynamic generation happy and motivated.

So How Do You Keep Gen Y Fulfilled?

An "engaging workplace" that "encourages collaboration and innovation" are must-haves, according to Alison Maitland, co-author of "Future work: How business can adapt and thrive in the new world of work."

With new productivity and business apps/platforms launching on a near weekly basis, there really is no excuse to properly managing and motivating this hyperconnected crowd. From Evernote to Basecamp, Hip Chat to Contactzilla, and Clarity to Dropbox, these tools will certainly keep your Gen Y employees organized and productive. By offering flexible work areas, office spaces can include a mix of formal and informal meeting places, to cater to all generations on your team.

Does Working Freely Really Work?

Best Buy has instigated a ROWE (Results-Oriented Work Environment) that has seen an increase of 41% in productivity and a 90% decrease in churn (employees quitting) and all the extra cost that that entails. Within ROWE, workers are allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the results are achieved. "As long as they get their job done, they're free," says Cali Ressler, who helped create ROWE.

Interestingly, even though Gap has now implemented ROWE, Best Buy has ditched the idea. The current CEO believes that the leadership style it relies on, delegation, doesn't work for everyone and that the one size fits all of ROWE isn't the panacea others believe it to be.

Why Should We Change?

It's been estimated that by 2025, Gen Y workers will make up around 75% of the workforce. A new future of prosperity needs to adapt to changing workplace needs and expectations. The question is, whether to adapt now or try to keep the practices that have previously worked. Perhaps a quick glance at how our economy stands at the moment will be enough to encourage us to work freely? Companies who figure it out earlier, rather than waiting for the eventual workplace evolution, will have a competitive advantage and, more importantly, will be able to attract and retain the best talent.

Do you employ Gen Y's? How are they different to manage and what have you done to accommodate an increasingly evolving workplace?

David Hassell is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of 15Five, a software company focused on producing transparency and alignment in organizations through structured, efficient and effective communication practices. David has also been named The Most Connected Man You Don't Know in Silicon Valley by Forbes.