How To Lead Generation "Y"

Gen Y

The members of the demographic, commonly known as Generation “Y” were born between the years 1981 and 1994, which makes them ages 17 to 30 in year 2011. They are the young up-and-coming leaders of society. There are a lot of them, and since they will soon fill most of the jobs being given up by the aging Boomers, we need to modify our methodology in order to lead them.

A New Breed

Generation “Y” are a new breed of people with a new way of looking at the world. They have been influenced by their parents, the education system, the media and each other. They operate with an attitude of entitlement and they prefer communication via hand-held device over the spoken word.

What follows are a few ideas that will help make your workplace the employer-of-choice for Generation “Y”…


The first Personal Computer was introduced to North America in 1981…the same year the first Generation “Y” baby was born. Hence, unlike the Boomers and Generation “X”, these kids have never seen a world without computers.

They have seen rapid advances in computerization which eliminated the bulky, beige boxes of the PC and turned them into I-Phones, Blackberries and Androids.

Facebook, Google, and Twitter rule the world of Generation “Y” and there is no sign of anything but more growth in that social phenomenon in the future.

~Generation “Y” needs computers, hand-held devices, email, texting and YouTube in their lives.

~They want media-rich information and communication in order to remain engaged.

~Adjust your thinking to allow for their different ways of working.

~Let them use the style of communication they prefer.

~Give them the most modern equipment and software you can afford.


When you hire a Generation “Y” person expect them to want a lot of time off. All their lives, they were heavily doted on by their hovering, “helicopter”, parents and they take their family-time very seriously. They were taught that they are special and they believe that they are entitled to fair treatment. Their concept of fair treatment might be much more liberal than their older bosses, so without greater flexibility, conflicts are bound to arise.

~Structure your business to allow for flexible schedules and more creative time commitments. 

~Generation “Y” values time off over money so come up with a cost-effective flex-time or job-sharing plan that is affordable for you and attractive to them.


Generation “Y” does not want to dress up in any formalized uniform or business attire. They want a relaxed, comfortable style of dress that makes them feel good. Forget about business suits, frilly blouses, neck ties, and dress shoes. Expect loose-fitting, sloppy shirts and pants along with casual shoes, low-cut, revealing tops and tight, mid-riff-baring jeans.

~A decade or so ago, the business world adopted casual day which has given way to casual week and casual-all-the-time. It is a freight train that does not want to stop.

~Have a minimal number of restrictions on clothing styles if you want to keep your Generation “Y” people happy and productive.


When you hire a Generation “Y” person, you must appeal to their social values. Their parents taught them that good people give of their time and money for charities and philanthropy. They will expect their employer to support social causes and they will expect time off to involve themselves in the betterment of their communities.

~Ask your Generation “Y’s” what they expect your company to do for the community and for charities and then put them in charge . Let them take it over and run with it.

~They will rally to the cause if they feel a sense of ownership of the plan.

~Ultimately, they will become more loyal and you will become the employer-of-choice.

~The positive notoriety brought by their activities will improve your bottom line.


Thanks to the ubiquitous modern media, young people have been exposed to many tales of high level lying, cheating, larceny, bad business and crime that would not have been made available in earlier decades. They watched the Enron scandal unfold, Tiger Woods fall from grace, The BP oil spill disaster, The United States bank collapse, the Arnold Schwarzenegger scandal, and the onset of global warming.

They watch almost every day as the adults that run the world do every dirty, underhanded, nasty thing that only the worst human beings could conjure up. They think adults are lying to them all the time and they don’t trust them. Without trust, personal or business relationships of any kind cannot survive!

~A more open, informative management style will hold you in good stead with Generation “Y”.

~Give your young people all the statistical and strategic information you can about your business.

~Keep them informed and be honest about your fears, your failures and your successes.

~Never make promises you cannot or will not keep.

~Most importantly, never lie to them or withhold the truth.

~They want open, honest communication and if they don’t get it, they might resign or quit emotionally and stay around to make your life a living hell!


Because of the huge volume of information Generation “Y” is subjected to moment-by-moment on the internet and television, their minds are flooded with a myriad of ideas and opportunities. They believe they can do anything because their parents and teachers told them so. They do not want to be slotted into boring jobs with a minimal number of activities or little chance for advancement. They want variety and an opportunity to show the world what they can do.

~Try to match the natural talents of the individual to the job they do.

~Put the right people in the right jobs.

~Do skills and talent assessments in order to determine the best job for each individual.

~Throw out or amend job descriptions and allow more job-flexibility for each employee.

~Regularly ask each employee how they feel about their job.

~Give them a career path and follow it.


Remember that the majority of your customers will also be Generation “Y” very soon, so do not make the assumption that the people who buy your products or services will continue to expect the same type of service and decorum you have in place today.

~The world is changing so if you want to be the best in your field, try to change with it now.

~If you work with them and accept them as they are, Generation “Y” will carry you to a new level of success.

Generation “Y” is coming to a job near you soon. You can resist their new style of working or you can use their new ways to work for you and increase revenues. It is your choice!

Wayne Kehl is President and CCO at Dynamic Leadership Inc
He is author and behavioral analyst who lectures on leadership and motivation
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Onefineham on July 15, 2011 at 8:34 am

    You make some important points here, particularly about the not withholding information or outright lying.

    Gen Y has superior information resources, better social networking and IT skills – they are going to figure out whatever truth you are trying to hide and your credibility will be GONE forever.

  2. Charles Bodsworth on July 15, 2011 at 11:56 am

    Interesting article. We’ve just done research into Gen Y attitudes (and the gap with their managers) in the workplace and have many similar findings.

    Gen Y graduates in the UK are looking for their boss to be a coach, not a micro manager. They expect a lot of autonomy and advancement very quickly.

    We’re the Institute of Leadership & Management, so our core audience is middle to senior managers – and I think they could really usefully follow your advice (will pass it on on Twitter). Managers need to understand that Gen Y is going to bring change to the workplace (like it or not).

    Here’s our research:

  3. Wayne Kehl on July 15, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Thanks onefineham. I agree that honesty is paramount!

    Charles: Thanks for passing my article on. Your research looks great! I also do a 3 hour seminar on Generation “Y” and it is by far the most popular speaking that I do.


  4. Janelle Howell on July 16, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Very insightful information!

    As a Gen-Yer, I can definitely agree with the above statements about wanting advancement and variety on the job. We want to lead with a purpose, and serve as a positive asset to our company. With a little bit of mentorship, faith, and paying our dues, we’re sure to go far – and we will pay it forward when the time comes. In fact, the article said it best, we want the opportunity to show the world what we can REALLY do!

  5. Wayne Kehl on July 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Great comments Janelle. I have spent a lot of time working with Generation Y and I agree with your views. Now if we can just spread the word to all of the leaders in the world, we might just do something great! Please feel free to pass my article on to everyone you know.

    All the Best

  6. Colin Millar on July 27, 2011 at 6:36 am

    Don’t know if it holds true in the USA but in UK educational establishments, Generation Y is also used to ‘gold star’ recognition and this appears to create the expectation that any effort is recognised and rewarded immediately.

    I guess that’s very similar to the “helicopter” parenting you refer to but it does create some interesting challenges for leaders and managers.

    I’ve become increasingly convinced that we’re creating mediocracies – we celebrate people doing what’s expected of them and reward them for it through additional payments; certificates; badges; awards etc.

    The real challenge for me is dismantling the mediocracy, whilst not de-motivating Generation Y.

    Carrots and sticks work for mules but I think some businesses still struggle with the concept there’s a 3rd option that creates engagement.

    • Wayne Kehl on July 27, 2011 at 11:49 am

      Colin: The challenges in the UK are amzaingly, identical to those in North America. I agree to with your comments on mediocracies and I do believe that there is a positive alternative that Generation Y will follow. We just need to have the courage to implement it.
      Wayne Kehl

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