How Generation X Managers Can Help Generation Y Succeed

Hundreds of column inches and pixels have been dedicated to the challenges of managing Generation Y, that group of upwardly mobile professionals that are currently in their twenties or early thirties.


Also called millennials, they have had a lot of bad press, not all of it deserved. Generation X managers, born somewhere between 1965 and 1980, and now with their youth behind them, have inherited Generation Y, and are grappling with both age and cultural differences in their teams.

Generation Y employees need flexibility, interesting team-based work, and freedom to work with new technologies. The over 50s may work independently, prefer to be office-based and are often reluctant to embrace new ways of communicating.

The key is to be able to align the two without providing any special treatment to the newcomers, which can have its own pitfalls, legal and otherwise.

What Does Generation Y Want?

Human resource managers and recruiters tell us, in no particular order, that they want:

  • Interesting and challenging project-based, non-routine, exciting work
  • Career growth opportunities and active mentoring
  • Inspiring and enabling leadership including regular feedback.
  • Flexibility – telecommuting, working remotely and time for their other life
  • Access to key decision makers. They need to know about strategy and how their job fits into the organisation’s goals
  • Community-centric and supportive working environment
  • Access to data and information. They want to see the full picture.

This shopping list may look impossible at first glance but some organisations are making strides to adjust their HR policies and operational guidelines to accommodate at least some of the requirements.

Retention of key staff in procurement needs a new approach. Some US companies that are leading the way with Generation Y are Shell, Boeing, Caterpillar and Cisco. They must be doing something right as they have some star employees under 30 years old who love their jobs.

What Generation X Managers Need to Provide 

  1. Leadership and guidance.
  • Don’t try to manage Generation Y, just lead them
  • Provide guidance and direction while giving consideration to their input; they don’t take kindly to direct instructions
  • Facilitate mentoring between different levels of employees, not only top down
  • Focus on the results employees produce rather than on how they get it done
  • Set aside time to provide honest feedback – feedback is coaching
  1. Provide flexibility in their work life
  • Consider offering partial telecommuting and/or working offsite
  • Build in some scheduling flexibility to allow management of their personal time. It doesn’t matter as long as the work gets done.
  • Review conventional approaches to face-to-face meetings – use available technology
  1. Career development and training
  • Keep employees engaged by providing inter-active and technology-based educational and training opportunities as well as career growth advice.
  • Make small promotions regularly – don’t make them wait for a year.
  • Regular performance management systems won’t work – more regular and constructive one-on-ones are needed
  1. Team-based projects
  • Take advantage of Generation Y’s preference for teamwork
  • Fulfil their high expectations with special assignments.
  • Give them full responsibility for a sub-project or make them a “champion”
  • Consider putting them on a task force to solve an outstanding problem.
  1. Open communication channels
  • Let everybody to contribute to decision-making through sharing of information and collaboration.
  • Allow multiple communication methods depending on preferences.
  • Use available electronic tools to speed up project delivery

What Does Generation Y Need to Do to Succeed? 

Generation Y individuals need to show a willingness to learn more and feel free to ask for help. The internal culture must support this approach, if it doesn’t, find out what the problem is and fix it. My advice to young procurement professionals is:

  • Build your technical skills and get qualified to give you a head start on the competition
  • Take ownership of your job by taking pride in your work and assuming responsibility for your results and outcomes. Go beyond the job description to do whatever it takes to get a task done.
  • Grow your job by making it your own and taking on any challenges that are offered. The expression “it’s not my job” is not in your vocabulary.
  • Ask for technical guidance and advice when needed from subject matter experts. Most successful people are keen to share their knowledge.
  • Read widely on your chosen field and make it your mission to learn about best practice and apply it in your own environment.

3 Final Tips for Managing Generation Y

  • Understand and accommodate different learning styles.
  • Consider personal employee needs, such as flexibility with scheduling.
  • Be careful not to follow blanket age stereotypes.