How to manage Generation Y

The concept of working from anywhere at any time is second nature to Generation Y, something they never even question. It's an option previous generations never had, when laptops, WiFi and compassionate bosses were scarce.

Now, the 30- and 40-year-olds who make up Generation X are managing the twenty-somethings as their supervisors and mentors and trying to figure out why they have such a different attitude about work and what to do about it.

Most of us haven't really thought about the important role we play in moulding this new generation of workers.

From their first entry into the workplace a few years ago, Gen Ys, smart and brash, have bumped up against corporate cultures steeped in the chained-to-your-desk mentality.

Advocacy groups are putting up a good fight to coax workplaces to be more accommodating about where and when work gets done.

But Gen Y consistently says their biggest obstacle is managers who can't let go of the need to exercise authority over employees - in person.

Jaret Davis, a 35-year-old partner at a law firm, considers himself "a bridge between two extremes". He's smack in the middle of the younger lawyers who want flexibility and work-life balance, and the older lawyers in top management who want to preserve a corporate culture where tradition and face time is valued.

"The Gen Y perspective is not foreign to my generation," Davis said. "We came with the mindset to work hard, do what it takes, but we're open to Gen Y who looks at it as, 'How can I work hard and master my craft while not sacrificing my life?'"

Davis says he's working with young lawyers at his firm to figure out how to tap into innovations that would give flexibility and still get the work done.

Many Gen Xers with kids are using informal flexibility at work, rather than formal flexibility. They say their immediate managers (fellow Gen Xers), as opposed to top executives (boomers and matures), are from dual-career households, too, and are supportive of the work-life challenges they face.

Like Davis, Karen Gilmartin, a workers compensation lawyer, understands her role in modernising the workplace.

The young lawyers need Gen Xers to teach them that they can have success but they have to earn it, she said. Gilmartin, 49, leads by example, showing her young female associates that it's possible to be a respected law partner and a mother.

"I'm here at 7am but I might cut out early to get my child to football training."

Gen X were the pioneers who suffered the perils of flex time and allowed personal schedules to take them off their career paths.

But maybe as pioneers we can help the next generation build on our experience and figure out how to do it even better, how to use a flexible work arrangement without it taking someone off the path to the top.

Now there's an even different bunch, already being referred to as the iGeneration.

This generation would rather text than talk. They want to be constantly connected, available and multi-tasking and don't remember a time without the constant connectivity to the world via sophisticated handheld devices. In a decade, when they enter the workplace, they won't be able to fathom why they can't split early when clearly they can handle any client need from their smart phones.

MCT