As a young woman finishing my university degree, I often wondered what my first real job would be like. I always had low expectations; making coffee, answering phones and if I’m lucky, actually applying skills from my three years of tertiary education. I’m currently in the process of completing an internship at a marketing agency, and it was through this that I secured my first ‘adult’ job.
I’m currently at my desk in an office in Melbourne, with my new job description of ‘marketing communications coordinator’. I’m in charge of social media and administration tasks for the consultancy group I work for. For me this is true responsibility – I understand the importance of social media in today’s world. In my short (three week) professional life, I have learnt many things. I’d like to share some of these with you, especially how to handle Gen Y employees in the workplace.
While many stereotypes about Gen Y are true – we like to ask ‘why’, clear directions are helpful and our mobiles are never far away – there are some that I’m trying to breakdown in my new workplace.
We aren’t all trained in IT or computer services
During my first day at the office, I noticed a few technological issues that could be fixed up. There was a networking issue that I ironed out and was able to set up my own email account among other things. This showed my new boss that I was capable of fixing technological problems in the office – but I can’t fix them all. I’ve since learnt the phrase ‘I know it’s possible, it will just take time for me to learn’, which has been useful in explaining that while I don’t know how to fix a problem immediately, I’m sure that with trial and error I will get there.
Be clear and concise when giving direction
I remember in my interview my boss said ‘we’re happy to try new things – fresh ideas are great’. I immediately had thoughts of a successful Twitter account and a really great PR plan that I could implement. I’m really lucky that my boss has truly been open to new ideas and is happy to discuss what I’m working on. But if you’re hiring, and you want someone to do exactly what has always been done, in the exact same way, please be clear. If your notion of ‘fresh ideas’ is changing your stationary supplier, try to avoid implying that we’ll have free reign. Encourage discussion and research, explain that if we can convince you why trialling a new program or approach to a task is a good idea then you’ll agree, it gives us motivation to explore and justify our thoughts.
Personally, I’m a very social person – I’m happy to answer phones, chat to clients and connect online. After all it’s a part of my job. However I’ve found that I often struggle to connect in new social situations, especially in a professional environment. I get nervous and say stupid things. For example, just this week I was talking to my boss at my internship, and during the conversation I informed him that he could ‘go nuts’ editing a shared document. Following this comment, I returned to my desk and considered hiding in the toilets for the rest of the day.
Encourage us to join in or passively participate in office discussions or activities. We might not follow the discussion entirely or care all that much about what your kids did at Joey’s second birthday party Saturday afternoon, but I can almost guarantee that we appreciate the offer to be included. We’ll get better as we have more practice so do forgive us for telling you to ‘go nuts’ on something – I promise it’s a positive turn of phrase.
Some of us multitask like crazy
I’m a full time university student. I spend one day a week at my internship. I play team sport twice a week, volunteer at my local fire brigade and at my netball association. I’m busy, just like everyone else. Now I’m working part time as well, but I am certainly not complaining.
Before sitting down to write this article I had to sort out an issue I’m having at university, while I am work. It goes without saying that I’ll take it as time out of my lunchbreak or stay past my finishing time, whatever works for my colleagues. Even though I waited until the office was empty to make my phone call, I considered what I’d do if my boss walked in mid-conversation. Would I abruptly hang up and pretend I had just finished taking a phone call? Or would I stumble my way through a pathetic excuse?
No, I decided. I’d explain the situation in the way I just explained it to you. I am dealing with an issue, but that it wasn’t detracting from my work.
Just because I don’t have a mortgage or kids to take care of or 40 employees to manage, doesn’t mean I don’t have my own issues cropping up. Maybe this is commonplace in work environments, a sort of don’t ask don’t tell policy. But I would hate for my boss to think that I wasn’t entirely dedicated to my job here. I am, but it doesn’t mean that I am not completely dedicated to other things in my life too. I’m learning to manage my time, priorities and relationships just like everyone else is – I’m just really new at it.
We aren’t simply ‘Gen Y’
Maybe it’s because I’m starting out in a new job, but I definitely feel like I have 1,000 tasks to complete and not enough time to get it all done. Which is why I was more than happy when my boss suggested that he sit down with me and go through a list of priorities for me to focus on. Clear direction is something I know I need for myself. I’m a list and checkpoint kind of person. However I’ve worked with other Gen Ys who prefer to focus on completing one task before another.
Gen Y, just like the rest of the population is made up of individuals. As with everyone else in your workplace, as a manager or boss, you’ll need to invest time in observing, guiding and establishing what works and what doesn’t work. You just might find that going about this in other ways proves more effective.
We’re more than our age – most of us are enthusiastic, hardworking and understand that we have a lot to learn before we can even begin to think about filling your shoes.
The more you invest in us, the more benefit we’ll return to you and your workplace. By letting us know how we can help you and how you can help us, we’ll be well on the road to a professional and beneficial workplace relationship.
Rhiannon Rak is the Marketing Communications Coordinator at Options Consulting Group. She is lucky enough to have discovered her passion early in life – public relations and communications. She has a lot she’d like to say, but would also love to hear from you at email@example.com.