In the 21st century, many organisations are grappling to find the best approaches to creating a work environment that will ensure that the best talent is attracted and maintained. At the centre of the challenges that are facing the workplace environment is the ambiguity of the best approaches to manage young workers who are referred to as Generation Y, which differs significantly from previous generation X and baby boomers based on their attitude to work and the expectations of their employers (Spiro 2006).
Generation Y refers to workers whose year of birth lies between 1980 and the late 1990s. This class is currently entering the labour force situation (Bridgeford 2007). Generation X managers who are Generation Y seniors find it difficult to successfully maintain a balance between managing their fellow generation X and generation Y colleagues. This paper will discuss the management theories and approaches that generation X managers can exploit to effectively manage the Generation Y workforce.
Theorists and concepts
The definition of management differs from one individual to another, from an organisation to the next, and with different circumstances (Yan 2006). The main challenge that managers face is developing an understanding of the varied ways of defining, perceiving, and practising management in different contexts and situations. However, from history, different theorists have come up with important management theories and concepts that generation X managers can adapt effectively to the 21st-century fast-paced technology-driven workplace environment.
Management theories have evolved significantly over the years to reflect the changing management demands and expectations in the changing workplace environment. One of the important management theorists is Henry Fayol (1841-1925) who is often described as the father of Modern Management Theory based on his classical management theory (Hira 2007). Fayol was concerned with efficiency at the organisational level rather than at the task level. Consequently, he put forward five distinct elements that defined management (Bens 2006). The elements of management under the classical management theory by Henry Fayol are as follows:
- Forecasting and Planning-It are important for an organisation to look into the future and put in place action plans to achieve its goals.
- Organising-It is important to ensure coordination of human and material resources to achieve the organisation’s goals
- Commanding-It is important to have authority in the undertaking of the organisation’s activities.
- Coordinating-It is important to unify activities and efforts at the organisation.
- Controlling-It is important to ensure that activities and individuals conform to the rules and instructions of the organisation.
Although the above elements of classical management theory still apply in the current workplace environment, their mode of application differs significantly from Henry Fayol’s time as discussed later in this paper.
The second important theorist who has contributed to organisational management theories is Mary Parker Follet (1868-1933) who is credited for her work on the human relations approach to management (Paul 2001). She proposed a scientific-cum-technical approach to organisational management where she emphasised the importance of manager-worker relations (Trunk 2007). Further, she emphasised the need to view organisational management and leadership more holistically (Meier, Austin, & Crocker 2010). She defined management as, ‘the art of getting things done through other people’ (Bens 2006, p. 40).
Through her theory, Follet shows her strong conviction on the importance of management as a process of facilitating cooperation and involvement of staff in the organisational decision-making process (Bridgeford 2007). The theory is credited for promoting ‘cutting edge’ approaches to organisational management and public administration such as ‘win-win’ solutions, community-focused answers, situational headship, strength in human diversity, and focus on processes (Yeaton 2008).
The third theorist who has contributed to the organisational management theories is Chester Barnard (1886-1961) through his Natural Systems Theory of Organisations (Bens 2006). In his book, The Functions of the Executive (1938), Barnard emphasises competency, professionalism, rational stewardship, and a systems approach to organisational management (Bridgeford 2007). Under the theory, an organisation is a cooperative system that has physical, personal, biological, and social components that appear in a systematic cooperative relationship to achieve a given end (Bens 2006).
In other words, organisations bring together the above components to achieve things that cannot be accomplished without such cooperation. Further, Barnard views an organisation as a unit that requires a system equilibrium, which includes a balance between the organisation and its external environment. It also involves a balance between the contribution of the organisation’s members and the degree of satisfaction the members and the organisation receives from each other (The New Strategist 2006)
The present-day work environment is highly dynamic. At the centre of this dynamism is the fast-paced generation Y that is seeking to revolutionalise the work environment management approaches (Spiro 2006). The values of generation Y have been shaped by notable events in life such as technology, terrorism, and major economic changes in the world (Yan 2006). It is important for the present-day manager to understand these organisational and managerial values to handle the workplace environment effectively.
Firstly, it is important to note that the workplace culture and practices are changing to accommodate the changing values and motivations of generation Y. This situation is evident in the telecommunication sector, which is driven by technology as a key area of advantage to the current generation. The group values working in groups to accomplish tasks as a team. At XYD Telecom, although teamwork is important, the management has not put the right measures to encourage the practice among employees. This observation means that many young people feel out of place and underutilised. The situation can have a long-term negative impact on the organisational culture.
Secondly, many organisations are taking up social responsibility activities, which are important in giving back to society. According to Trunk (2007), giving back to society is an important value for generation Y and hence the need for activeness of an organisation is participating in the society through activities such as environmental stewardship. For instance, at XYD Telecom, it is important for the organisation to find ways through which its employees can be actively engaged in social responsibility activities.
Thirdly, unlike previous generation X, which sought job stability and professional growth at the same organisation, generation Y has grown at a time where long-term job stability is not guaranteed (Spiro 2006). As such, generation Y is accustomed to changing jobs frequently in a matter of years rather than in decades (Lloyd 2007). Further, there is a demand for higher wages and benefits earlier in the job than in the past (Yan 2006). As such, at XYD Telecom, it is important for the organisation to put in place a ‘benefits policy’ that focuses on offering competitive wages and benefits to its employees to maintain talent. Without such an approach, there is the likelihood of high employee turnover, which cannot be good for the organisation.
Lastly, Generation Y employees are interested in having a good work-life balance. This claim means that, unlike generation X employees who were accustomed to the 40-hour weekly jobs, generation Y employees seek more flexibility to have personal time to enjoy life (Spiro 2006). In some cases, employees are sacrificing high salaries to have a better work-life balance (Trunk 2007). At XYD Telecom, there is a need to have a more flexible work environment, which can allow employees to work remotely with the help of technology. The current 40-hour weekly work environment will only create an environment that is intolerant to employee desires and hence lead the company to a dangerous path where it cannot attract and retain top talent.
Application of Management Theories and Principles
The current organisational practice borrows heavily from classical management theory, the human relations approach to management and the natural systems theory of organisations among many other theories. Accordingly, present-day management requires the use of four approaches to management that consist of different management styles such as directive, consultative, participative, and delegative styles that borrow from the above three theories. These approaches to organisational management should be used interchangeably to reflect different management circumstances and demands in the rapidly changing work environment.
Firstly, the delegative style of management and leadership in an organisation indicates a situation where the management decides and then directs staff members to follow the set decisions (Bridgeford 2007). This approach follows the classical management theory, which treats controlling, commanding, and coordinating as key elements of organisational management. However, the approach should be limited to situations where employees lack skills, the information is highly sensitive, or accountability cannot be shared. It leads staff members to be highly dependent on the management for decision-making (Bens 2006).
The second approach is the use of the consultative style of management where the management consults staff members and then uses such information to make decisions (Bens 2006). At this level, although accountability cannot be shared, it allows more involvement of staff members in decision-making. This situation builds partly on the human relations approach and classical management theory. It should also be used on rare occasions in the current workplace environment.
The third approach is the use of participative style where staff members recommend and only act after approval from the management (Bridgeford 2007). In this case, the risk of working alone is high due to lack of experience or other factors. This approach fits well with the natural systems theory and human relations approach since it calls for the active contribution and participation of all staff members in decision-making processes. Further, since it requires the approval of decisions, it is highly applicable to generation Y, which requires frequent feedback from managers for motivation.
Lastly, the delegative style is important since employees move higher in the hierarchy of the organisation. This plan allows the organisation to appreciate the skills and abilities of staff members who consequently become highly motivated. However, it is important to ensure that mentorship and support mechanisms are in place to keep employees highly motivated when they are given more responsibilities. Hence, the plan leads to more effectiveness of the organisation.
Despite the complexities of the present-day workplace environment due to the highly dynamic generation Y workforce, generation X managers can overcome management challenges by borrowing from different management theorists. For instance, Henry Fayol, Mary Follet, and Chester Barnard with their classical management theory, human relations approach, and natural systems theory respectively, offer important approaches that can be applied by the generation X manager to manage generation Y employees. Some of the styles that can be learnt and applied from the theories include directive style, consultative style, participative style, and delegative style, which can be interchangeably and collaboratively used towards effective organisational management in the 21st workplace environment.
Bens, I 2006, Facilitating to Lead!: Leadership Strategies for a networked world, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Bridgeford, C 2007, The Young & Not So Restless: Helping Employers Understand, Retain Generation Y Workers, Sage, New York, NY.
Hira, N 2007, ‘You raised them, now manage them’, Fortune, vol. 155 no. 9, pp. 38-48.
Lloyd, J 2007, ‘The Truth About Generation Y’, Marketing Magazine, pp. 12-22.
Meier, J, Austin, S & Crocker, M 2010, ‘Generation Y in the Workforce: Managerial Challenges’, The Journal of Human Resource and Adult Learning, vol. 6 no. 1, pp. 68-78.
Paul, P. 2001, Millennium Morals. Web.
Spiro, C 2006, ‘Generation Y in the Workplace’, Defense AT & L, vol. 1 no. 1, pp. 15-21.
The New Strategist 2006, The Millennials: Americans Born 1977-1994, New Strategist Publications Inc., New York, NY.
Trunk, P 2007, ‘What Generation Y Really Wants’, Time South Pacific., pp. 57-63.
Yan, S 2006, ‘Understanding Generation Y’, The Oberlin Revie. p. 4.
Yeaton, K 2008, Recruiting and Managing the ‘Why’? Generation: Gen Y, CPA J78, New York, NY.