Managing young people
Updated: Mar 19
The title may be a bit presumptive, perhaps it is all about managing all people, not just young people? Managing anybody requires skills and experience, and I am sure that if I asked you to create a list of what you think managing people means, you would come up with ten or twelve ideas immediately. Somewhere on your list would be the word “empathy”: the ability to feel with others.
Empathy is the key to managing anyone. You must feel with that person, regardless of age. Of course you must understand what work has to be done, and be able to communicate that work in a way that others can understand, ensuring that they are respected as a person and recognized for what they are required to do.
The days of hierarchical authority are old-fashioned and have expired. Many of those who depend upon such management techniques are often those who have been over-promoted (Peter’s Principle), in the hopes that they will succeed if given sufficient opportunity to do so, only to see them cover their own inadequacies with rules and dictates. Managing anyone requires kindness, decency and self-discipline. It requires that those who manage, are exemplary in their own work and are masters at talking with others.
I often get asked, “how should we manage young people?” to which my answer is simple, the same way as you manage anyone! It is important to consider when we say young, who exactly we are referring to. Let’s suppose that young is anything under 40? Would that be fair? Though, if like me you are over 40 (by quite a bit) you will still consider yourself to be young (and rightly so)!
Our young people are divided into two main cohorts, they are:
Millennials, also known as Generation Y (or simply Gen Y), are the demographic cohort whose birth years are between 1981 and 1996 a widely accepted defining range for the generation, i.e. those aged between 24 and 39 (Wikipedia).
Generation Z (or Gen Z for short) is the demographic cohort succeeding Millennials and preceding Generation Alpha. Researchers and popular media use 1995 to 2015 as the commonly accepted birth range, i.e. those aged between 5 and 25 years old (Wikipedia).
It is important for those who manage others to understand these generations and the differences in their understanding of life. By appearance they may look like one and the same, but they are significantly different. These differences vary around the world, by culture, however there are certain defining factors that are fairly consistent.
A broad summary of the differences are found in the common thoughts associated with each of the groups, Millennials commonly being labeled as lazy, entitled, self-absorbed and always looking for experiences, while the Gen Z are born with the internet and are digital natives, mobile savvy, realistic, prefer authenticity, enjoy dialogue and are debt averse.
The Millenials have seen the advent of the internet and the emergence of technology and are attached to their mobiles, Gen Z have always been connected. Millenials will frequently be glued to their devices while Gen Z can flit between devices and even go without any device just as easily.
So in managing a workforce of 18 to 25 year olds, you are working with Gen Z people, who understand life in a completely different manner from Millenials.
Managing Gen Z
Challenge them: give them a problem and let them figure out how to solve it. They will amaze you. Offer genuine support and follow up so that they do not feel lost or alone on the project, avoid telling them how to do it. Celebrate the successful outcome with a group activity.
Engage in dialogue: get them to talk and share their ideas and the evolution of their thoughts. Ask them for their advice on topics and listen carefully to what they have to say, acknowledging their contribution. Listening is a key mark of respect for Gen Z. When you listen, they will perform.
Keep them busy: they are capable of producing a lot and quickly, so get them to do that. Their capabilities are expansive, they have a lot of knowledge about a lot of things. Any question they have ever had they got the answer online. They are not stuck for long. They will look for solutions and create them.
Acceptance of different: They are going to come up with some weird and wonderful stuff, things that older folks have never even heard of. They know of apps that do stuff in the time that it takes others to think about a project. Accept them.
Simple recognition: These folks enjoy being appreciated, but they move on quickly. It is not that big a deal. The job is done, they were thanked, now what? Get on with the next thing.
Avoid devaluing them as a person: this crushes Gen Z more than others. They understand the environment and the need for a better world. They know that it takes everyone to make it work and personal attacks and insults is not generally in their lexicon. Care and nurture will get the results.
The 25 to 39 category are the most fragile workers in history, and even more so if they are in management themselves. How do we manage these folks? It is a puzzle but here are some key thoughts
Status counts: whatever contributes to status is important, so in managing Millennials it is important to keep in mind their title. They need a title that they feel reflects their value. Let them choose their own title, it will accelerate results.
Precise compensation: whatever you commit to must be carefully delivered. Write things down and ensure that you have mutual understanding on it
Build reporting systems: set up agreed upon tasks and ensure that you have clear reporting for progress and delivery. There is a tendency for priorities to be confused or disregarded. Deadlines are critical as are interim project meetings
Latitude: allow things to be done their way. Avoid competing over style, it is a complete waste of energy. When they feel that they are able to express themselves, performance goes up
Public recognition: certificates, awards, team building, trophies all work well with this group. It builds their self esteem and establishes their value to the group and to others.
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