Gen Y Poses Unique Management Challenges

By Kathy Gurchiek Nov 10, 2009

Generation Y is better educated and more tech savvy than previous generations, but managing them in the workplace poses unique challenges to employers. However, through insight and proactive policies, employers can tap into the strengths these nearly 80 million Americans bring to the workforce, suggests a recent webinar speaker.

Review and update company company policies dealing with harassment, cell phone/computer use, equal employment opportunity, and meal and rest breaks, advises Lonnie Giamela, an attorney with Fisher & Phillips LP who led the Nov. 5, 2009, webinar. In addition, he urges HR professionals to train managers in harassment prevention and to implement confidentiality agreements and love contracts along with comprehensive polices that address drug use and extensive computer use. Lastly, he urges employers to take appropriate steps to transition employees in and out of the workplace.

There are several reasons why it’s important for employers to be mindful of issues prompted by these employees born between 1977 and 1995, said Giamela.

For one, social norms have shifted.

“The tolerance for what is acceptable and what is not acceptable has changed dramatically,” including pop culture’s treatment of sex, sexual harassment and romantic interaction between two people, Giamela observed.

A February 2008 survey found 44 percent of 6,700 people have been involved in a workplace romance. Among Generation Y employees, 42 percent have dated a co-worker and 27 percent have dated a supervisor, even though 41 percent of Gen Y employees think that workplace romance can jeopardize job security or advancement opportunities, Giamela noted.

However, a 2006 Society for Human Resource Management/ study he cited found that 72 percent of 491 HR professionals do not have formal or verbal policies on workplace romance even though perceptions about romantic involvement between employees have changed.

Since not all relationships end happily, it rests with employers to create stringent policies against harassment, introduce anti-harassment training, and consider love contracts, he said. Love contracts are written agreements between two dating co-workers stating that the relationship is consensual. It’s a way to ward off potential sexual harassment claims.

Increased Use of Leave

Employers can expect to see an increased use of various types of leave among Generation Y workers, Giamela predicted.

That includes medical leave related to pregnancy based on an emphasis of starting a family at a young age; military leave from a generation that comprises a “super-majority” of people serving long-term tours of duty abroad, and more Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—or California Family Rights Act (CFRA)—use to care for parents.

Giamela advises employers to:

  • Ensure that their employee handbook contains comprehensive, multipage FMLA/CFRA policies.
  • Review their military leave policy and procedures to ensure that HR professionals know the rules and requirements regarding the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994(USERRA).
  • Review options of telecommuting for new parents on baby-bonding leave.


It’s an over-parented generation whose members see themselves as one-person enterprises, have a feeling of entitlement, focus more on marketing themselves than their employer, and don’t want to hear “we’ve always done it this way,” Giamela said of his generation.

It’s also almost one-half Hispanic or Asian. And 20 percent of Generation Y has one foreign-born parent. Members of this generation tend to work in teams and desire information immediately. Its primary theme, he said, is balancing work and life without giving up the ability to be recognized at work.

It is a generation that is distrustful of employers, having seen family members and friends’ families downsized in “corporate America’s quest for higher productivity,” he said.

While the nation hit a staggering 10.2 percent unemployment rate in October 2009—the first time since 1983 it surpassed 10 percent—52.2 percent of individuals ages 18-24 and not in school were unemployed, according to Giamela. CNN Money.comreported that the high school graduating class of 2009 matriculated into “the worst economy in decades, with unemployment at a 26-year high.”

In general, members of Generation Y don’t feel that they owe their employers loyalty. They neither expect, nor want to be, with the same company for their entire career, despite the current soured economy.

Claims against employers for fraudulent misrepresentation, failure to pay guaranteed bonuses, and class-action meal and rest period violations are among the types of legal claims Generation Y employees are filing in increasing numbers, Giamela said.

In addition, they tend to file more wage/hour complaints relating to unpaid overtime, as blue- and white-collar workers from this generation tend to work through lunch.

He advised employers to maximize their protection against claims by:

  • Conditioning annual bonuses with being at the company on a specific date after the bonus period.
  • Offer tuition benefits on a pro-rata basis.
  • Implement conventional and nonconventional background checks following prior authorization.

Giamela noted that employers should be aware that Generation Y employees tend to abuse leave policies and they should cast a wary eye at excuses that might be obtained from services that provide fake funeral, doctor and jury notes.


In recruiting Generation Y job candidates, he advises employers to:

*Offer flexible schedules, career paths and compensation plans. “This is not a “one-size-fits-all” generation, he warned.

*Recognize that they crave mentoring. More than one-third want to interact with their supervisors several times a day. However, they don’t want interaction related to their work unless it’s to be praised.

*Recognize that they desire autonomy and the ability to try new things, want to be treated as individuals, have high expectations of recognition and reward for minimal effort, want a collaborative relationship with their supervisor, and have little patience for “paying their dues.”

*Recognize they prefer companies that facilitate some type of volunteerism. However, this generation gives less time per capita to volunteerism than other generations, Giamela said, “so obviously there is a conflict there.”

*Have a technologically up-to-date workplace. Generation Y’s classrooms have been Internet-connected since junior high school, Giamela observed.


Seventy percent of Generation Y employees admit that they access the Internet for non-work purposes, make personal calls at work, send personal messages at work and use computer e-mail accounts. Giamala says it’s essential that every company that uses computers has a social networking policy.

He pointed to the importance that employers take precautions to protect proprietary information.

Employees in general are being provided access to customer lists, marketing plans, vendor lists, pricing information, copyrighted information and intellectual property without appropriate safeguards, he pointed out.

This raises company image and confidentiality issues. Giamela advises employers—with notice—to monitor and conduct periodic surveillance access of employees and their use of databases containing such information as sales, marketing and research and development data.

Safeguards he recommends included dividing customer lists among the sales force and implementing password protection for that information so that each sales person has access only to information for customers he or she serves.

Maintain and use confidentiality and inventions agreements for all employees who have access to that type of information, he suggested. The agreements should be two or three pages with a couple of stand-alone exhibit pages.

“Remember that employees not only have storage in a micro-vault, they also have it in their brains,” he said, and they are more than willing to use it for personal advantage.

Consider developing a comprehensive exit interview procedure to retrieve documents and electronic records that contain the organization’s confidential information, and obtain from the exiting employee his or her written assurance that everything—memory sticks, laptops, BlackBerries, cell phones, discs—has been returned and electronic copies erased.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at

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