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Young Employees Aren’t Lazy

May 12, 2009

Young employees don’t want to work.

That’s what one of the attendees insisted during my session today at Sage Insights in Nashville about finding and keeping Gen Y.

He’s not the only one who feels that way. After all, that’s why we created Accounting Tomorrow—to open the door for people of all generations to express these feelings to each other instead of behind each other’s backs.

But this one person was concerned that our society is pretty much going to collapse because younger workers are lazy.

There was one flaw in his argument, however.

He said that when he provides them with some guidance and handholding they do a great job.

OK, so maybe some of these employees aren’t self-starters. So what? Take what works and make it work for your firm.

He also seemed upset that this newest generation doesn’t respect authority in the way Boomers respected and listened to their bosses.

I explained that’s because this generation has a relationship with their parents that’s more like a friendship. So when they start a job, they expect to have that same type of peer relationship with their bosses, who are the same age as their parents. This culture starts at home. So employees have to work with the card they’ve been dealt.

While they may treat their bosses differently, many of them are willing to work hard and around the clock for firms that give them projects to work on that they excite them.

For example, a lot of companies are trying to make a business case for Facebook, which many young people are on anyway and therefore it might make more sense to put them in charge of creating a Facebook presence for the company.

But aren’t they going to spend all day on Facebook instead of working, another attendee asked.

Well, if they are on it for a business purpose, why does that matter?

Also, I said, many younger employees prefer to work late at night. So giving them the flexibility to not have to be in the office the traditional 9-to-5 could end up yielding great rewards. Maybe they’ll even work on the Facebook project after hours in addition to their regular duties.

One Gen Y attendee and another on the tail end of Gen X confirmed that’s how their employers let them work—and they actually put in more hours as a result.

The Gen Yer said her clients know they can’t reach her before 9:30 a.m. , but she stays until 6 p.m., and then logs on late at night after taking care of personal things.

She was insulted by the statement that people her age are lazy,  yet she admits she gets frustrated with some of her colleagues her own age who display some of those negative habits.

Work ethics start at home, she agreed. They also come from mentors who display exemplary habits that younger employees want to mimic.

This group was smaller than the last time I gave the speech to a packed room. Yet it created the same kind of heated discussion. And when a 38-year-old grandfather sent me a friend request at the end of the session and wanted me to accept it on the spot (which I did), I considered the presentation a success.

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