Chapter Corner

Motivating Generation Y

Posted in: Features, March 2014

gen-y.pngThe stereotypes that haunt Generation Y have carried over into today’s workplaces. The generational gap between the Baby Boomers and Generation Y is filled with miscommunication and fallacies. With the elders of Generation Y established in their careers and a high number just entering the workforce, many Baby Boomers and Generation Xers are struggling with how to motivate the Millennials to take pride in their work.

It is common for older generations to criticize younger generations. In 400 B.C., Socrates said, “Our youth have contempt for authority; they show disrespect for our elders.” This illustrates that the negative perception of younger generations is not a new problem. Currently, there is a lack of awareness on what motivates Generation Y.

First, we must define the generations. Smashed in between the Baby Boomers and Millennials is Generation X. The generally accepted timeframes of each generation is Baby Boomers – born 1946-1964; Generation X – born 1965-1979; Generation Y – born 1980-2000. A major factor in the generational conversation is population. The Baby Boomers are often described as the most populous generation with 79 million Americans falling into that category. Generation X is sometimes overlooked due to their small population of only 49 million Americans. The biggest surprise, and what is unbeknownst to many people, is the Generation Y population is nearly as large Baby Boomers with 77 million American Millennials.*

Characteristics of Millennials

Stereotypes are typically based on characteristics of a group. However, the focus is on the negative characteristics and often takes traits of the lowest common denominator and applied to the entire group. This careless grouping of people is dangerous in society and in the workplace. To dispel the stereotypes that plague the Millennials, we will lay out the characteristics of Generation Y and how they have been misconstrued as a negative.


According to the Pew Research Center, Generation Y is on pace to become the most educated generation ever. With an emphasis on post-secondary education from their Baby Boomer and Generation X parents, many Millennials are not satisfied with their high school diploma – they attend college and enroll in apprenticeship training and/or academies to continuously learn. This focus on continual learning is one the reasons why many Millennials are in a rush to climb the ladder.

Multi-tasking Experts

How many times have you seen a young adult walking while holding a conversation, checking Facebook, and responding to a text message? Having this wealth of connectivity at their fingertips has trained Millennials’ brains to focus on multiple things at one time. Of course, there are many negatives that come with the mobile phone. However, focusing on the positives, it provided the ability to quickly research or process new information.


The younger generation is always searching for a way to streamline their work processes. Millennials were raised in a time when new technology can revolutionize a business and then be obsolete the next month. This rapid evolution of technology forces users to be at the forefront of the next best thing. Whether it’s using a new device or tool, they consistently challenge the notion, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” While in pursuit of a new way of completing their work, these Millennials aim for efficiency instead of daily routines.

People of Generation Y also ask “Why?” That simple question opens the door to evaluate new business methods on a jobsite or in the office.

Motivation Tactics

One of the biggest dilemmas facing today’s business owners is how to motivate Millennials in the workplace. Due to the consistent rise of the average retirement age, more generations are working together than ever. The disconnect between Baby Boomers in management positions and Millennials can be bridged by using tools to motivate this generation of up-and-comers.

Open Lines of Communication

When the Millennials question why the work needs to be done a certain way, management should have a clear, well thought-out answer. This generation needs the direction and reassurance that the work plan laid out by management is the best course of action. Taking the time to clearly explain set expectations will put the Millennial at ease and increase their productivity. The simple peace of mind of understanding the reasoning behind the work can change their outlook.

Additionally, it is important to communicate the path the Millennial can take to advance in their career. These ambitious individuals will be encouraged to work harder if they have control of their own future. This will help focus their determined personality. Take an active role in their development toward their career goals to encourage quality production early in their career.

“Clear and active communication is critical in any relationship, and can be even more so important when communicating with colleagues in different generational groups,” said Spenser Villwock, CEO of IEC Rocky Mountain (IECRM). “Gen Y does not resonate as much with a simple punch list of tasks or a ‘do as I say’ approach. Yers like to understand why what they are doing is important to the project, why then the project is important to the company, and how they are contributing to something larger than just the task they are asked to accomplish.”

Allow Flexibility

More than ever, people are striving toward a better work/life balance. As far as scheduling, that is easier in an office environment than at a contracting company. Work/life balance does not have to be at the mercy of hard work. In the construction industry where many of the field workers are hourly and not salary, when the work is heavy, workers will need to work longer days. However, at the slower times, permitting flexible work hours or having the workers have a say on the schedule (while still complying with the specific job’s schedule) could go a long way in boosting morale. Work/life balance is not as much about total hours worked as it is about control of those hours.

Mutual Respect

Baby Boomers believe in earned respect; it is not free or given to anyone just because of their title – this is attributed to hard-working roots. You have to prove to them that you are willing to put in the work. This is less true for Generation X. They are willing to give respect to authority but they have more of a rebellious streak than Boomers. They are known to protest more than the previous generation.

One of the bad characteristics, or myths depending on who you talk to, of Generation Y is a lack of respect for their superiors. It is nearly impossible for someone to be respected if they do not respect others. Having a respect for authority and peers will help the Y leader be respected as well.

The most important step to earning respect is performing well. Millennials’ performance should gain them respect in the workplace regardless of their age. Other generations need to put the Millennials in the best position to succeed to have a cohesive workplace.

Although many of the characteristics are sweeping generalities, they are based on research of trends of the specific generations. These varying generations can coexist in an office or on a jobsite – it will take hard work and understanding. Generation Y is just as hard working as Generation X and the Baby Boomers, they just have different sources of motivation.

Joseph Cephas, M.A., is the Vice President of Public Affairs for IEC National and Editor-in-Chief of Insights. He  is responsible for the dissemination of all information including publications and digital communication. Cephas earned his Bachelor’s degree in Speech Communications and his Master’s degree in Communications Studies with an emphasis on Management and Leadership Communication from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. While completing his Master’s degree, he studied cross-generational management extensively.