WORKING LIFE

At work, Gen Y not as confident as they appear: Study

To the world, they always appear smartly dressed, walking with a swagger with the latest gadgets in hand, and displaying loads of confidence when they talk.

But when it comes to work life, Generation Y - better known as millennials - suffer from anxiety and insecurity about their skills as professionals, a new study has found.

A survey by US-based Leadership IQ has found that those in the millennial generation are not very sure if their work performance is satisfactory, are not comfortable discussing compensation and need improvement in their communication and writing skills.

The report found areas where these young people - aged roughly between 18 and 35 - identified room for improvement in their act.

"I regularly hear managers complain that millennials don't know that they need to improve," Leadership IQ founder Mark Murphy says. "Perhaps some of millennials' reticence stems from the fact that they don't really know if their performance is where it should be."

The term millennials is used for people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, who were entering preschool at the turn of the millennium. Coinage is widely attributed to authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, who observed that this particular generation represents a strong sense of community - both local and global.

In its study, the Leadership IQ involved more than 3,000 millennial employees from a wide range of industries to answer more than 100 questions. The study compares their replies to those by their predecessors, including Generation X and older age groups.

The report found that only 23 per cent of millennials are very comfortable discussing their long-term compensation goals with their leaders, compared with 32 per cent of people in their forties and 42 per cent in their fifties.

Only 35 per cent of millennials believe their writing skills were better than their counterparts', and only 28 per cent thought their communication skills were better than their peers'.

Reacting to the findings, Ms Stella Tang, managing director of Robert Half Singapore recruitment services, says the fault lies with employers if millennials are unsure about their performance.

"Good companies know that employees have to be acknowledged when they are doing a good job. Without positive feedback, they can become unmotivated and disengaged, no matter how much money they are earning," she says.

Ms Tang attributes their inability to negotiate a compensation package to shyness, to being greenhorns or to plain inexperience.

However, another finding on their lack of writing skills was not surprising, says Ms Eve Yap, director of marketing and corporate communications at ManpowerGroup Singapore.

"It does not help that some young people practically live on social media, and assimilate the media's lingua franca," she observes. "This includes the use of abbreviated terms such as tq (thank you) or tc (take care)."

Ms Yap, however, attributes communication skills to personality issues, rather than generational issues.

In conclusion, Leadership IQ's Mr Murphy says a deep discussion is necessary to maximise everyone's potential. "When only 33 per cent of millennials say that they truly know whether their performance is where it should be, we leaders need to do a better job on performance management," he observes in the study.

Ms Tang says millennials, like every generation, will need time to develop the skills and ideas required to place their own stamp on their professional life.

Ms Yap agrees. "People need time to mature, build their strengths and raise their capabilities.

"What employers must be cautious of is attitude - a bad attitude and negative vibes from young or old must be nipped in the bud or corrected."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2015, with the headline 'WorkingLife At work, Gen Y not as confident as they appear: Study'. Print Edition | Subscribe