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Culture shock: Looking at Gen Y and their managers


Sue Honore and Dr. Carina Paine Schofield from Ashridge Research give us some practical advice about how to engage Generation Y.

A global survey from Ashridge Business School of almost 3000 managers and graduates shows that although managers admire the intelligence and energy of young professionals they dislike their strong focus on the self and pursuit of fame and recognition and feel they are poor team players who lack respect.

Graduates, on the other hand, are hungry for responsibility and progression but struggle with the more formal communication style of their managers and place a much stronger emphasis on achieving good work-life balance. The research report ‘Culture Shock: Generation Y and their managers around the world’ also reveals that young employee retention is becoming a major issue for organisations worldwide. The average length of stay in a job for members of Gen Y is only two years, with unmet expectations of work being cited as the top cause of leaving.

This constant job-hopping not only costs organisations dearly but is also giving rise to concerns about the judgement and decision-making capabilities of future leaders. Managers are concerned that people who never stay to see the end of a project don’t learn from their mistakes and are unable to build on their successes. This disconnect between managers and their Generation Y employees leads to puzzlement and sometimes frustration on both sides. Both parties are simply looking at the world of work through different lenses and are struggling to work together effectively as a result.

So what can organisations do to try and close the gap and get Gen Y and their managers working together in greater harmony?

Set the boundaries from day one

Managers need to establish the boundaries for behaviour and expectations early on in graduates' careers. Gen Y often needs help with issues such as office etiquette, face-to-face behaviour, respect ,teamwork and ‘political’ nous. They often want promotion before they are ready and fail to understand why their performance is not considered up to scratch. Ideally this kind of ’workplace education’ should take place as part of the induction process, although managers also have a responsibility to deal individually with members of their teams.

Develop missing skills early 

The research also reveals a real mismatch between the areas where graduates and their managers felt development was needed. Graduates think they lack technical skills while their managers think they lack people skills. It is important to tackle these ‘soft’ skills gaps at an early stage so that young employees don’t get off on the wrong foot with their colleagues or become disenfranchised because they are not seen as capable of handling the challenging and interesting work they crave. Some organisations are experimenting with ‘in at the deep end’ programmes which give graduates a high level of responsibility early on but with appropriate support to fall back on when required.

Provide two-way coaching and mentoring 

Gen Y employees want and need coaching and mentoring to help them improve their people skills and develop a better understanding of ‘how things are done’ in the world of work. A large percentage of graduates (40-70% depending on location) actively want their own manager to provide this kind of support. Managers also have much to learn from the next generation of employees coming through. In particular they could learn from Gen Y’s abilities to exploit social media and build strong external peer networks. Two-way mentoring programmes which support both senior and junior staff can do much within organisations to build relationships and improve understanding.

Provide regular praise 

Gen Y are the X factor/Facebook generation and have grown up expecting ‘fame’ or at the very least public recognition for their achievements. This may not sit easily with their managers who are more used to keeping their heads down and getting the job done. If graduates are to remain engaged however it is important to provide regular praise not just for the big achievements but also for the small steps along the way. It could well make the difference between an enthusiastic participant in the business or a disenfranchised passenger who is already looking for pastures new.

Hold up a mirror 

Managers need to look closely at their own perceptions and preferred methods of operating to make sure they are not holding on to outdated views or working in a particular way because that’s what the business has always done. Both generations need to adapt to the changing world of work and taking a step back can often help managers make better use of the unique contributions and strengths of the younger generation.

Access Ashridge’s Culture Shock research summary report by clicking here


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