How often have you discussed your younger colleagues with friends and work peers? For many of us with Gen Y staff, the talk isn’t always positive: “They insist on getting their way all the time”, “If they’re the slightest bit bored or unhappy, they quit”, “After just a few months of working, they expect to be promoted – like they’re entitled to it”. . .

The truth may not be too far off. Says career coach Chan Ngee Key: “The fast pace of the Internet has led this group, born between 1980 and 1995, expect great workplace flexibility and are likely to change employers more frequently than people from Gen X.”


7 Gen Y-inspired tips on getting ahead in your career. Image: Corbis

 Career and leadership coach Angela Spaxman is quick to point out that we shouldn’t hold these differences against “the younger ones”, since it tends to create divisions in the workplace and breeds a culture of blaming others for not sharing the same life experiences as us.

She adds that it’s only natural for every generation to have some beef with the one after it. “Every generation will think differently. And there is always going to be some truth in the statements by older generations that the younger ones don’t understand because they have not lived through the same history,” she says.

So, like us, our Gen Y co-workers are simply a product of their time. Don’t perceive the age gap negatively. In fact, there is a lot that Gen X women managers can take away from them – for your own career success and fulfilment.

1. BE OPEN TO TECHNOLOGY
Gen Ys are switched on, plugged in and wired up, having been raised on the latest technology and the Internet. They are also masters of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs. That’s important for Gen Xs who might not be as tech-savvy to stay on top of what is happening in the digital world, suggests career coach Chan Ngee Key. You need to bring these skills to the workplace to help advance your own career.

Angela also believes that being open to new technology can also help you be more open-minded. “There is a huge debate about the impact of social networking on privacy, but what I’ve seen is that the more one is exposed to different thoughts and opinions, the more open and less judgmental they are of others.”

2. TAKE RISKS
Gen Y workers are more daring and willing to take risks compared to the older generation, says Ngee Key. “It’s not that they’re reckless, but in school, they were taught to give things a try,” he says. “And if they failed, they simply took it as a learning experience.” So with this kind of mindset, taking risks can help you erase some old habits and be more creative in the workplace.

3. SPEAK UP
If you have a differing opinion, or if you’re not happy about something, don’t keep mum about it. We may frown upon our Gen Y colleagues’ questioning or opposing others’ decisions, but understand that it’s sometimes okay to put your foot down if you disagree.

Leanne*, 39, a managing director of a boutique ad agency, says her 20something copywriters were more outspoken than their older colleagues, and as such, usually got what they wanted. “They also came across as caring more about the work they had to do, and I respected them all the more for it,” she shares.

4. EMBRACE DIVERSITY
“Most Gen Y workers are comfortable and familiar with diversity in every form – more than any other age group. As more and more organisations continue to increase diversity in their workplace, Gen X professionals can learn from their openness to diversity,” says Ngee Key.

5. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
“Gen Xs tend to be cynical of themselves and consequently hold back from achieving their true potential,” says Angela. “On the other hand, Gen Ys are idealistic in terms of their potential and the contributions they can make to the world.” So stop being so self-critical – focus on your best qualities and work out how to use them to your best advantage at work. And never stop believing in your strengths.

6. EXPECT POSITIVE FEEDBACK
Gen Ys ask for it and thrive on it. It boosts their energy, drive and confidence at work. “In many ways, Gen Y’s attitude towards work and life is healthier than that of Gen X’s,” says Angela. “Sure, they have a tendency to be overconfident and demanding of respect and appreciation, but this verbal recognition keeps them motivated and helps them be great contributors. Their naive overconfidence may bother us, but it points to our own inability to accept our essential greatness.”

So ask for – and expect – positive recognition, and watch your confidence at work grow. And when it is given to you, relish it instead of remaining non-reactive. “From this, you will also find increased energy and commitment to improve yourself,” Angela adds.

7. DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN
“Fun is a workplace attribute highly valued by Gen Y employees,” Ngee Key points out. So of course, while you should be serious and professional when it comes to your job, remember that it’s okay to look at the lighter side of things and to see the humour in tough situations. That’s one of the secrets to career satisfaction.

Angela Spaxman is a Hong Kong-based career and leadership coach from Loving Your Work, a company that provides career coaching services for managers and professionals. Visit www.loving-your-work.com for more information on Loving Your Work.

Chan Ngee Key is a career management coach, strategist and the founder of Springboard Talent, a career management coaching company. Go to www.springboardtalent.com to find out more about the coaching company.

This article was originally published in SimplyHer February 2011.