Christine Richards of EdR on "The Truths of Generation Y"

In our weekly blog, "Beyond the Bio," we ask MBQ Power Players to write a post of their choosing about their industry. This post is from the January/February issue featuring the category of Chief Operations Officers.

My business is providing housing for college students. My offices all are in college towns, adjacent to or very near college campuses. Staffing these offices are employees who can be classified by any of these labels: Generation Y, Millennials, Generation We, Global Generation, Generation Next or the Net Generation. Based on my profession and my locations, those in the 30-and-under generation constitute 90% of my workforce — 800 Gen Y employees in all — and 100% of my 40,000 customers. Suffice it to say I have some experience with this group.

To understand where I am going with this, you first need to understand where I came from. Growing up in a rural midwestern Iowa community, I was a 4-H member, sang in the school choir, played every sport available to girls (including half-court 6-on-6 basketball), marched in the band and participated in my church youth group, working hard at everything I ever did. Whether it was babysitting for my neighbors’ kids, mowing a lawn or working at the local grocery store, I worked hard. I didn’t know any different. My school teacher mom and farmer/real estate broker dad worked hard. They were my role models. I grew up watching their work ethic and emulated it, then and now. There is no job below my “pay grade,” whether it is picking up trash at a property or cleaning the toilet in the restroom. If it needs to be done, I will do it. Thank goodness I married a man with the same work ethic. We probably wouldn’t be together 22 years later if I hadn’t! Together we’re the role models for strong work ethic for our children. I also am blessed to be the mother of a Gen Y’er, a 16-year-old boy who keeps me attuned on what’s going on with the generation I both employ and serve.


Gen Y is surpassing Baby Boomers as the most talked-about, researched and studied generation. Some ugly labels are attached to the Gen Y’ers, such as narcissistic, self-centered, even lazy. Within my own organization those 50 and up frequently struggle with this younger group of associates. An over-50 coworker recently opined that our associates were not overworked. Her evidence? When she walked through my department after 5 p.m. most work spaces were empty. Remember, about 90% of my associates fall into this Gen Y class. Being outspoken, I immediately defended my team, letting her know these Gen Y’ers work as hard as anyone else in our organization. They just do it differently, I informed her. You don’t have to be in the office to be working. Today you can work from anywhere; we all need to remember that.


At 43, I can still somewhat relate or, I guess, appreciate this generation. I certainly better because without them my organization doesn’t run. I need them.


Here is what I’ve learned from Gen Y and about how to supervise them: They are people. Period.


People are all different. Some are creative, some are not. Some are organized, some are not. Some have strong work ethics, some do not. Some grew up with great role models, some did not.


We can’t classify people by when they were born, but we can appreciate the world they were raised in and how it has impacted them.


One label holds true for Gen Y: tech-savvy. Generation Y grew up with technology and relies on it. Gen Y is plugged-in 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I consider myself lucky to have this group at my disposal. If I can’t figure out something on my iPhone, I know exactly who to ask.


Another truth: Gen Y’ers like praise and feedback and guidance. Who doesn’t? Most human beings need praise in some form or fashion. It’s not because they were born in the generation where everyone got a trophy for participation. It’s because they are people. Whether you are 25 or 50, you need praise.


And one more truth about Gen Y’ers: They can work from anywhere. They don’t have to be sitting at their desks to be working. As long as they have their mobile devices, they are working and connected to the needs of their employers. Texting is the method of choice for contacting them. Voice mails on their work phones are the last things they check. So if I want to get in touch with Gen Y associates, I text or email. They’ll respond, I promise you.


In some cases relating to this younger generation is difficult, but that’s not limited to Gen Y’ers. It’s always difficult to relate to a different generation. The 60-year-olds in my office try hard to relate to the 40-year-olds and vice versa. We are at different points in our lives so our brains, engines and energy levels run differently. As people, we are the same, but different.


One 60-year-old peer loves collaboration, which is characteristic of Gen Y. If he could, he would prefer to brainstorm all day with a team, using white boards and markers. That’s how he functions. Is it wrong? Nope. It’s his style. That’s not my style, but that doesn’t make his wrong. It just makes us people who work differently.


Don’t waste time trying to figure out or classify Gen Y. They are people inspired to make their way in the world, build their knowledge and make a difference, just like the rest of us. And if you need help with your laptop or mobile phone, you know who to ask.


Power Player Bio: Christine "Chris" Richards


Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, EdR Collegiate Housing. Oversees operations of owned and joint venture collegiate housing portfolio along with directing man- agement services division. Formerly served as Vice President of Operations and as a regional director. Previously held several management positions at Gables Residential Trust, a multi- family REIT. Member, National Apartment Association’s Student Housing Task Force and the Institute of Real Estate Management. Is a Certified Property Manager (CPM).

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