The Workplace Shift Part 3: The Future Leaders…Generation "Why"


In Part 2 of The Workplace Shift, “Generation X Prepares to Take the Baton,” we discussed how the most difficult elements of Generation X’s past may provide them with the strongest capabilities as the next-in-line corporate leaders.

Both Generation Y and Gen X place a strong value on work-life balance. They don’t want work to define their life. This connection alone between the two generations may transform the workplace as we know it today.

Generation Y wants to work but how they work is very different from their parent’s generation. According to the Society for Human Resource Management:

  • By 2013, Gen Y will represent the largest percentage of the U.S. workforce.
  • By 2016, Gen Y will be larger than all other age groups combined.

It’s time to stop whining and complaining about them and begin to understand and embrace them.

Let’s take a closer look at “Generation Why,” our future leaders.

Generation "Why"

Generation Y Stereotypes

Generation Y is nothing but a bunch of slackers
In reality they are motivated and creative workers. Meaningful work is important to this generation. Long hours, a large corner office, or extensive travel do not appeal to them — but this does not mean that they are lazy. Carl Van Horn, a labor economist at Rutgers agrees:

“I don’t think this is a generation of slackers…This image of the kid who goes off and skis in Colorado, I don’t think that’s the correct image. Today’s young people are very focused on trying to work hard and to get ahead.”

Generation Y is Entitled
Since childhood they have been over praised and protected from feeling unsuccessful. They grew up during a time when there were no winners and losers — everyone was a winner! No wonder they feel this way. In the workplace they appreciate acknowledgement even when their work doesn’t merit it.

Generation Y Asks Too Many Questions
Some refer to Gen Y as “Generation Why.” They tend to ask a lot of questions while at work and they are not afraid to speak up. There are times when the questions may be perceived as challenging authority or a decision. This can cause conflict in the workplace.

Generation Y Has Poor Work Ethic
The members of Generation Y are willing to work hard, but they want to work when and where they want. They don’t buy into the face time concept if it is not necessary. This can be a difficult concept for a Baby Boomer supervisor to embrace and may be perceived as a poor work ethic.

Generation Y is Not Willing to Pay Their Dues
They find little value in doing the same thing over and over again. If they have mastered the job quickly, regardless of their time in their position, they want to be considered for a promotion. They don’t buy into paying your dues as a requirement before a promotion is considered. This type of company philosophy will cause them dissatisfaction and they may leave. Current research shows that the average tenure for Generation Y employees is 16 months.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Working with Generation Y
Image courtesy of

Perhaps the major difference between Gen Y (and Gen X) and previous generations is their view on success. Rather than race to the top of the corporate ladder, success is defined increasingly by the achievement of personal and family success.

This desire and value placed on a work-life balance will likely change companies once the Baby Boomers hand over the leadership baton. Gen X will begin the change, then Gen Y will take over!

In a 2007 survey conducted by, hiring managers and HR professionals provided the following examples that highlight some key Gen Y differences in the workplace. Generation Y employees expect:

  • to be paid more
  • to have flexible work schedules
  • to be promoted within a year
  • more vacation or personal time

The survey results point back to the work-life balance that they value. Companies will need to take a closer look at policies and benefits to make sure that they appeal to this generation. They want it all and they want it quickly! They will drive the changes that are important to them and when they shift into a leadership role they will support them.

Okay, Generation Y IS High Maintenance

It may be time to dust off your copy of “High Maintenance Employees” written in 2005 by Katherine Leviss. Gen Y is here to stay — they are the new talent pool and they can be high-maintenance. Learning what makes them tick and how to work with them will bring out their high potential.

Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking, a leading generational research firm believes that Gen Y will be the most high-performing workforce in history.

“This is the most high-maintenance workforce in the history of the world. The good news is they’re also going to be the most high-performing workforce in the history of the world. They walk in with more information in their heads, more information at their fingertips – and, sure, they have high expectations — but they have the highest expectations first and foremost for themselves.”

This generation is the most integrated, high-tech generation in American history. They are smart and driven to make a difference. It is true that they may challenge workforce conventions but this may be the over due reality check that the workplace needs. In fact, they may change it for the better with their desire for a greater work-life balance, positive feedback, training and cutting-edge technology.

This is a generation that has been infused with the idea that they can be anything they can imagine. They are a product of the self-esteem movement that infiltrated schools in the 90’s — when all children were proclaimed winners. They are eager to learn, ambitious, family-oriented, appreciative of flexibility and diversity, tech savvy, and optimistic. They want to change the world for the better. They are the future leaders.

Do you understand them? Tell us about your experience.

The Monday Morning Meeting with Joanna Ellis is a monthly series examining the impact of Generation Y on the multifamily industry and discussing how to successfully do business with them.

Part 1: The Future Renter…What’s Next?
Part 2: Three Ways to Grab the Attention of Generation Y
Part 3: Getting to Know Your Generation Y Coworkers
Part 4: How Does Generation Y Perceive Your Green Initiative?
Part 5: Get the Inside Scoop on Generation Y with Our Summer Reading List
Part 6: Generation Y: A View from the Inside
Part 7: Generation Y is on the Hunt for a Home—and it isn’t Their Parents’ House
Part 8: Four Steps to Avoiding Generational Conflict in the Workplace
Part 9: The Workplace Shift Part 1: Baby Boomers Prepare to Pass the Baton
Part 10: The Workplace Shift Part 2: Generation X Prepares to Take the Baton


President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

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Joanna Ellis is CEO and Owner of Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS) and Co-owner of Renter’s Voice. Under her direction, Ellis has established itself as the premier apartment mystery shopping company in the nation, as well as a respected provider of multi-touch point resident surveys, as part of their retention-focused customer experience program. Current clients include most major apartment developers, management companies, and REITs. Through Renter’s Voice, Ellis helps clients promote and respond to authentic and objective apartment reviews. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from Texas A&M, Ms. Ellis has spent more than 25 years in the multifamily industry, and she now holds both the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) and Certified Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS). She is also a licensed Texas Real Estate Agent. In honor of EPMS’ reputation for integrity, the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals awarded Joanna, on behalf of the company, the 2008 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for mid-size companies.

5 responses to “The Workplace Shift Part 3: The Future Leaders…Generation "Why"”

  1. […] In Part 2 of The Workplace Shift, “Generation X Prepares to Take the Baton,” we discussed how the most difficult elements of Generation X’s past may provide them with the strongest capabilities as the next-in-line corporate leaders…read more […]

  2. Great article on the ambiguity of Generation Y characteristics. I too believe they have skills that both are created by social change and will help older generations through rapid social change. One strength that was not mentioned is their authenticity; they demand it in leadership, are acquainted with it in social connections and live it out. I recently hired a capable Gen Y college student who taught me about trust in work relationships. I mention that he was capable, which was a good characteristic to instill my trust but, he also was an excellent communicator who was absolutely comfortable meeting in his home and in my home to do business. It was so new to me to experience this level of trust so quickly. As Stephen M R Covey says, there is great speed and efficiency in high levels of trust. This student helped my business more in 3 months than I would have expected from a seasoned worker. I hired him for tech help and he ended up helping me develop detailed plans to grow my company in the next two quarters.

    • Michael Cunningham says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Tinker. I’ll be on the lookout for “authenticity” when I’m reading about Generation Y.

  3. Joanna Ellis says:

    Tinker-Thank you for sharing such a great testimony. Your point on authenticity is a great one. Gen Y knows real when they see it, and it takes them just a few minutes to pass judgement. He clearly saw that in you, and it sounds like your willingness on both sides to instill trust resulted in a win-win situation. Generation Y also crave a high degree of freedom and autonomy in the way they work. Once again, it sounds like you offered this to your employee. For some leaders who operate in the security of a command and control style, this idea breaks them into a cold sweat—but I think they are “missing the boat,” as they say. When someone (expecially Gen Y) can contribute to the success of a company and share in the vision, they tend to be more engaged and motivated. Hats off to you for taking this chance! I hope you continue to reap the rewards of Generation Y in your business.

  4. Joanna Ellis says:

    One last comment Tinker, you have given me a great idea for a future blog…understanding the importance of trustworthy authentic leaders to Gen Y. We thank you for sparking another the idea!

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