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it’s not what you say…it’s how you say it

September 4, 2007

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the influx of GenY, millenials, whatever you want to call them, into the workforce. Most people comment that this generation wants challenge and intellectual stimulation, as well as the feeling that they are appreciated by the organization they work for. This recent article in PRWeek really hit the nail on the head, for me, in terms of what I and many of my peers are looking for and hope to find as we enter the workforce. But I’d also argue that there is an element that many have yet to recognize in our generation: the idea of trust.

 Bob Feldman describes my generation perfectly in the first three paragraphs:

GenYers, estimated by recent census data at 70-plus million, aren’t just the future of business, they’re currently forcing companies to adapt to their unique set of values and priorities.

They are bright, well-educated, full of self-confidence, opinionated, plugged-in, and unwilling to play by yesterday’s rules.

Sure, they’re occasionally called arrogant, aggressive, and unwilling to work their way up. But they have the potential to transform and enhance most businesses. They just need to be understood, respected, and heard.

(Bob, I feel like you know me so well…!)

Feldman goes on to explain the kinds of benefits young employees look for when they enter the workforce: higher pay, flexible hours, more challenging tasks, consistent feedback and professional development. What struck me as I was reading this was the realization that many of the places I have worked have integrated one or two of these aspects into the way the office is run. Some allowed flex-time, others had good benefits packages, and still others paid their young employees very well in the hopes that this would encourage retention.

The problem is that throwing a couple of these benefits in to appease the youngsters isn’t the point. As Feldman notes, this generation wants to feel plugged in to the vital day-to-day practice of the business. They need tasks that keep them striving higher, and an opportunity to feel like they have an upward path to work toward.

So I would go one step further and say that it is not that we need these things in order to succeed as much as we know that when an organization offers us access to these things, it means we are valued, and more importantly, trusted. We feel that our managers have enough confidence in our abilities that we do not need hand-holding or baby steps up the corporate ladder. It’s not the benefits that make the job, it’s what having those freedoms says about the relationship we have with our employer.

My mother always used to tell me (when I got in trouble for talking back, which happened not infrequently) that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Many employers tell their employees how much they are valued, and how great they are, and how vital they are to the organization. But if you’re saying that to a young employee to whom you have given a proportionally tiny salary compared to his or her peers, a role within the organization that affords little autonomy or responsibility, and the inability to have any flexibility in time and work atmosphere, what you’re really saying is that you don’t care. So even if that’s not what you meant… I would venture to say that’s what your young employees will be thinking.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Kelly permalink
    September 6, 2007 7:00 pm

    hey anya,

    Your post was very life appropriate for me right now, so I had to weigh in as a Gen x’er…I would say that even after having been in the workforce for almost 9 years, we’re looking for the same things – if perhaps for different reasons. We want flexible hours/schedules, so we can spend less time commuting and more time with the kids/insert fun activity here. We want great pay commensurate with our vast wealth of experience, and a clearly defined career path, because we finally know what we want to do 🙂 We want to be challenged and appreciated and have our ideas valued by the organizations we work for – becuase otherwise we’re just wasting our time…

    Good to see you for 2.4 seconds the other night, we’ll catch up again soon. K

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