Leading Gen Y: The Importance of Importance

As someone who is not motivated by a pay-check, I struggled when I first entered the work world.

Well, not at first. First, I interned for a start-up and I thrived in that environment. It was a lean, busy, fast-paced environment where all the work being performed by each individual was absolutely necessary.

Then I spent some time in large public and private organizations where many of my tasks appeared to be irrelevant. I wrote reports no one ever read, and worked on processes that never really had a purpose. I started to think there was something wrong with me. I had a decent paying job with excellent benefits, and I hated every minute of it.

Young Employee

While I was questioning my status as a cog in the bureaucracy, one of my managers told me that I needed to develop intrinsic motivation to work hard and do a good job regardless of what happens with the result of that work. Loosely translated, this means “you need to be ok with busy-work where the only payoff is a pat on the back from your boss.”

Companies who believe this should probably have Ritalin and Prozac covered in their medical plan.

I recently interviewed a candidate for an administrative position. She told me she believed the Receptionist is the most important person in the company, because she is the first person anyone interacts with. I could tell from that one statement that she loved what she did and she took it seriously.

I need to feel that way about my job. And I’m not alone.

When people talk to you about how Gen Y needs to be lead differently, the mindset that interviewee displayed is what they’re talking about. We’re not interested in busy-work. We really do need to see how what we do impacts the overall organization. If your employees question the process, you should be able to explain its importance.

If you can’t, perhaps you should also be questioning it.

This occupational curiosity is not a character flaw. It’s an evolution of the workforce. You don’t have mindless drones just doing what they’re told. You have hyper-engaged employees who really want to help contribute to your bottom line. Look at what you ask your employees to do and then ask yourself:

  • Is it productive?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Why are we doing it?

Answer these questions and communicate them to your staff. Perhaps take this one step further and get down in the trenches and lead by example. It’s hard not to be motivated to perform when the President of your company is performing the exact same tasks you do. Imagine you’re an entry-level employee working on a project and the CEO walks into your office and sincerely offers to help make cold calls or send out email invitations. Then try to feel like you’re insignificant.

There are many “leaders” who oppose this notion that they must take responsibility to help their staff understand the importance of their jobs. There’s still what I consider an old school of thought, where because you receive a pay-check you should just keep your head down and do what you’re told.

To those “leaders” I say, as we come out of the recession, and the workforce continues to evolve, you may find it difficult to find someone who wants to accept your pay-check.


About the Author

ProfileScott Keenan is a Recruiter for Priority Personnel Inc., with several years’ experience recruiting in both the public and private sectors in addition to marketing and social media roles. As a self-described professional cynic, he provides unique insight into modern recruiting from both the recruiter and candidate’s perspective. You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn