X & Y factors Featured

9:37am EDT December 20, 2002
Red Square Systems provides network support services to small- and medium-sized companies, but its CEO, Ian James, places as high a value on his employees' interpersonal skills as he does on their technical abilities.

"We can't have people who are unable to communicate," says James.

Ironically, while Red Square offers an environment that one would think should appeal to tech-oriented Gen Xers and Gen Yers -- open office architecture, lots of autonomy and excellent pay and benefits -- the average age of service personnel is over 40. That's not by design, says James, but essentially a function of the screening tools Red Square uses to qualify its service providers, as it calls them.

That's not because the company doesn't have employee-friendly human resources policies. Earlier this year, Red Square won a People Do Matter award, given to companies in Southwestern Pennsylvania that demonstrate strategies to retain a diverse, high-caliber work force.

Members of Gen X and Gen Y, it turns out, tend to have different communication styles than their older counterparts, says Joanne Sujansky, a leadership coach and founder of the KEYGroup. Gen Xers, the first latchkey kids, learned to be independent from an early age and virtually invented multitasking, says Sujansky.

Gen Y members had rich opportunities for learning through after-school programs, perfected multitasking and use computers for everything -- recreation, getting information, communicating with friends and family.

Authoritarian management just doesn't work with the younger set, says Sujansky. Managers must be coaches, not tyrants, if they expect to attract young talent and keep it.

"They don't want to be micromanaged," says Sujansky.

They do, however, appreciate feedback about their performance.

Flexible work scheduling is important to younger workers, says Sujansky. And experience has led them to value work-life balance.

"They watched the boomers burn out," says Sujansky.

Younger workers expect to learn skills that will help them either on their current job or make them more marketable. And they don't always look at their careers as progressive steps up the corporate ladder.

"They'll go across jobs to get experience," says Sujansky.

She also suggests that while it can be a challenge to both recruit and manage a diverse work force, a genuine effort that reaches out to recruit from as wide a range of groups as possible sends a positive signal to younger workers.

Says Sujansky: "I think Gen X and Gen Y value that."

How to reach: Red Square Systems, www.redsquaresystems.com; KEYGroup, www.keygrp.com