Closing the Generation Y/Management Gap - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #067

Closing the Generation Y/Management Gap

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Some of what we read about ‘Gen Y’ is exciting (they are super-talented, highly motivated); and some more damning (they are selfish, with a sense of entitlement). Some say there is nothing new under the sun and ‘Gen Y’ is merely an immature ‘Gen X’. What’s not in question is that there exists a disconnect between Generation Y and their employers; in terms of perspective and expectations. This disconnect can and must be bridged to create maximum value in an organization. This Idea suggests how it can be done. 


What are the work expectations of Generation Y graduates, and how do they differ from those managing them? Research shows that nearly a third of the UK’s recent graduates are unhappy and dissatisfied with their jobs and bosses. This then, is an important question to consider.

Based on findings from a survey conducted in 2011 of almost 2,000 recent UK graduates, we can see a notable gap between the attitudes and understandings of Generation Y graduates (i.e. those born 1982–2002) and their managers. The former can be described as ambitious, motivated, and expectant of quick career progression and rewards. In other words; firmly focused on themselves as opposed to team membership. Managers, on the other hand, have their own view on how to manage their graduates, which is in contrast to how those graduates want to be led. Behaviours thought to be of importance by managers are given little priority by graduates; such as regular feedback and setting clear objectives. A tricky disconnect begins to reveal itself.

In fact, the survey points to severely disconnected relationships between Generation Y graduates and their managers — a disconnect that will ultimately threaten the success of an organization as a whole.

This bears significant implications, not just for managers, but for a range of stakeholders, such as education institutions, the economy and society in general.


There is clearly much to be admired about Generation Y graduates; they are a huge potential asset for organizations. So how to bridge the gap between what they want and what organizations can provide?


  • Acceptance: Rather than view expectations as character flaws (is it a sense of entitlement or a healthy, burning ambition?), they can be thought of as part of Generation Y’s fundamental genetic make-up. Then, managers can help graduates manage them and work towards those expectations together.
  • Communication is crucial. Without open conversations it will be impossible to bridge gaps in understanding. Both graduates and managers must be able to clearly communicate their expectations and ambitions, and articulate their goals.
  • Empowerment and autonomy: Manage the person not the task. Evolve management models to give graduates greater autonomy (while retaining best practices; objective setting, performance feedback).
  • Rather than controlling or directing, managers should aim to coach graduates, and may themselves need help from organizations in developing those core coaching skills first.
  • More work experience on the part of Generation Y graduates prior to taking on a full-time position may also be beneficial.
  • Manage expectations: Organisations need to get better at managing graduates’ expectations about career, salary and status. They must find ways of showing graduates what is possible to achieve, and making that vision real for them. In this respect, human resource professionals have a key role to play in mapping out potential career paths with visible milestones.

Organizations invest heavily in graduate talent, yet this report shows an astonishing 57 per cent of graduate recruits said that they planned to leave their current role within two years, with 40 per cent hoping to find a new job within a year. Bridging this disconnect is crucial then, for organizations to be able to retain Generation Y employees in the long run.



Great Expectations: Managing Generation Y, Institute of Leadership & Management and Ashridge Business School (2011)


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