Management Practices

Greater Expectations: Tulgan on Gen-Y

Stacey Soble | July 10, 2011 | 2:41 PM
Greater Expectations: Tulgan on Gen-YGeneration Y can be your biggest headache, as well as your best asset. Author Bruce Tulgan sheds light on how to manage the youngest of the workforce generations.

Interviewing author Bruce Tulgan is like diving into a whirlwind of wickedly rapid quotes, facts and insight. And, if you're trying to take notes on his responses-well, just forget about it. After studying the subject of generation difference in the workforce for more than 16 years, Tulgan remains so passionate about the topic, you may as well put down the pen and enjoy the ride.

At Serious Business, January 24-26, 2010  at The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, Tulgan will take that energy on stage as he sheds light on Generation Y. In his newest book, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, he declares that GenYers promise to be the most high-maintenance workforce in history, but they also offer the most potential.

But first, Tulgan graciously shares his insight:

SALON TODAY: What first intrigued you about Generation Y?
Bruce Tulgan: For the last 15 years, I've been conducting in-depth interviews with young people in the workforce, capturing their expectations and behaviors and studying how differences between the generations play out. My first book was Managing Generation X, but we've continued our research to keep pulse on the new young workforce and help employers learn how to attract, select, manage and reward them. The biggest challenge has been determining where one generation ends and the next begins. But with Generation Y, there was a clear shift in attitude and the growing-up experiences, so it was time for another book. It may be a short book, but it's actually 16 years in the making.

ST: How do you characterize Generation Y?
BT: My short-hand answer is Generation Y is like Generation X on fast forward and with self-esteem on steroids.

Generation Y are those born between 1978 and 1995. The same macro factors-globalization and technology, institutions in a state of constant flux, and the information tidal wave-have impacted Gen Y as they did Gen X, just at an accelerated rate. These forces have picked up so much velocity in just one generation that I'd argue there is a profound difference in the life experience of Generation Y. Uncertainty is their natural habitat.

"My short-hand answer is Generation Y is like Generation X on fast forward and with self-esteem on steroids." --Bruce Tulgan

Listen in: Catch a portion of Stacey Soble's interview with Bruce Tulgan!
Click the play button to begin.

But Generation Y also grew up in the Decade of the Child-they were the great oversupervised generation. Making children feel great about themselves and building up their self-esteem become the dominant theme in parenting, teaching and counseling. They have been respected, nurtured, scheduled, measured, discussed, diagnosed, medicated, programmed, accommodated and rewarded for as long as they can remember. For Generation Y, uniqueness is their badge. They don't look at the tidal wave of information as overwhelming, they look at themselves as would-be experts on any subject. If they have a question, they simply ask the machine (the computer).
ST: What is the common misconception about Generation Y?
BT: The title of my book is a reference to the fact that Generation Y is the generation of kids where every kid did get a trophy, just for showing up. Many so-called experts have jumped on the bandwagon of this topic, arguing that today's managers need to create ‘thank-you' programs, ‘praise programs' and ‘reward' programs. They recommend turning recruiting into one long sales pitch, transforming the workplace into a veritable playground, rearranging training so it revolves around interactive computer gaming, encouraging young workers to find a ‘best friend' at work and teaching mangers to soft-pedal their authority. In my view, this approach is out of touch with today's reality.

The high-maintenance Generation Y calls for strong leadership, not weak. This is a good time for managers to be giving GenYers a wake-up call about realistic expectations. Managers should never undermine their authority; should never pretend that the job is going to be more fun that it is; never suggest that a task is within the discretion of a GenYer if it isn't; never gloss over details; never let problems slide; and managers should never offer praise and reward for performance that is not worthy of them. Instead, managers should spell out the rules of their workplace in vivid detail so GenYers can play that job like a video game.

Catch Tulgan Live
The theme for Serious Business 2009 is "Soundbyte Wisdom: 4 a world [email protected] speed." To learn more about Bruce Tulgan and other keynote speakers and to purchase tickets, log on to

ST: How is Generation Y changing the rules in the workforce?

Gen Yers continually shape and reshape their uniqueness. They want to customize anything and everything they possibly can. From the first day they arrive in the workplace, they are scrambling to keep their options open, leverage their uniqueness for all its potential value and wrap a customized career around the customized life they are trying to build. They will push employers further on the spectrum of individual needs, from schedule flexibility, work flexibility  and location flexibility.

ST: Within the salon environment, how should GenYers be managed?
BT: The GenYers that salons will attract most likely will be even more creative and individualistic. Create an environment that can be customized, careers that they can build around their lives. But do it in a framework of structure and boundaries.
Be very selective in hiring and use relevant criteria. Make sure you know what traits and characteristics an employee needs to possess, and which can be trained. During the interviewing process, give them the chance to select you. Give vivid and true answers to the question, "What's the deal around here?" Tell them about the rigors of your training program, how they'll be supervised, the chores that will be required, the realistic expectations of when they'll start cutting hair. Outlay exactly what they need to do to earn what rewards. After you're finished, look around and see who's still interested-that's who you really start interviewing.

Once you've hired a GenYer, provide them with a very clear set of instructions and expectations. They want that structure and rigor, but they also want to be part of the process. Encourage them to keep an Idea Notebook or a Learning Notebook where each day or each week they record ideas, thoughts and questions, and review it.
It's become almost cliché to say that Generation Y is over-parented, but they are. You can't fight that phenomenon, so run with it. Without strong management in the workplace, there is a void where their parents have always been. Step into the void and care about them. Give them boundaries and structure and help them keep score. And, negotiate special rewards in very small increments.

I'm frequently asked how long a manager has to maintain that extra guidance and support with a GenYer. When can you stop? My reply is you can stop as soon as you're ready to see their productivity decline.


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