“What? You want ‘balance’? We’ve got work to get done!”

By: Misti Burmeister


So many times I have heard this exact quote when talking with executives about their youngest employees. And so many just like them…

“They’re demanding ‘balance,’ and they’re not willing to do what’s needed to get the job done – who are these people – seriously!”

“When I was just coming into the workforce, I was lucky to have a job – I worked hard – I paid my dues — that’s how you ‘get ahead.'”

“Don’t they understand they need to prove their worth – demonstrate their abilities before they get promoted or get a raise?”

The truth is – they probably don’t know they need to demonstrate their abilities or prove their worth. Why would they? They grow up getting a trophy, even when they didn’t play in the game! By and large, the newest generation entering the workforce was spoon- fed, coddled, and now feel left to fend for themselves in the corporate world where the rules were set long ago – where they clearly do not understand what’s expected of them or how to get what they want. Much of the time, they don’t even know what they want – they’re simply acting out what they’ve heard they should want.

With many having had both parents working full time, generation X and Yers had less adult interaction growing up. They played sports only when ‘organized,’ rather than taking initiative to start a pick-up game. They missed the 1950’s rite of passage of having a paper route at age 11, likely not having their first job until they got to college. For many, their first job is right out of college. They watched an average of 30 hours of television a week, adopting the values of popular culture. Along the way, they missed the basic skills necessary in a corporate environment, like goal-setting, strategizing for their future, time management, and communicating outside email or IM! Instead – they grew up with a “faster is better” mentality – seeing the beginning and magical ending, but no struggle in the middle. They were told what to like, where to be, when to be there – they weren’t encouraged to think for themselves, explore who they are, or learn about facing adversity.

So, with this in mind, what can organizations do to retain and motivate generations X and Y – get them to perform and stop griping about things like “balance” so much? Here are 3 great ideas to get you started:

  1. Don’t take them personally! When they say things like “I’m going to have your job in 6 months” and you’re a Senior VP of the company, recognize it’s not about you – they just don’t get it!
  2. Don’t make assumptions about what they “should” know. When you see a gap, provide the training they need, either one-on-one or through formal programs. As a manager, sitting down with your young employees and helping them see the progressive steps in their career, will help reduce their anxiety and build loyalty – yes, they perceive you care! Also, providing workshops on time management, goal-setting, networking, and career management are very helpful.
  3. Ask them what they want/need, and help them see the context in which you make the decision about what is possible to do for them. I have come into companies and facilitated discussions with generation X and Y employees to determine exactly what they want and helped generate a way to give them what they want while keeping an eye on the bottom line. Simply caring enough to ask them what they want makes a big difference – again, they perceive the organization cares about them!

When organizations can let go of “the way it’s always been” and become focused on the benefits of an engaged workforce throughout the organization, so much more can be achieved! I challenge your organization to listen to what your generation X and Y employees are asking for – and generate a plan with them to achieve your bottom line results.

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