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TheStreet Open House

4 Ways Gen Y Workers Can Improve Their Terrible Image

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Generation Y has some high demands in the workplace, despite a soft economy and stiff competition from baby boomers, who don't want to give up their career perch to younger workers.

But Boston-based Millennial Branding, a self-described Generation Y analytical firm, says in a study that Gen Y professionals are not "on the same page" as their employers.

In the study, Gen Y Workplace Expectations, Millennials do respect their bosses (59% say their managers can offer good workplace experience and 41% say their bosses can offer "wisdom" at the office.) But managers and senior executives apparently don't think too highly in return, which may help explain why younger workers can't displace boomers in the office hierarchy.

Overall, the study says, employers believe that:

  • Millennials have "unrealistic pay expectations" (51%)
  • Have a "poor work ethic" (47%)
  • Are easily distracted at work (46%)

Ouch.

Rather than take those opinions personally, Gen Y workers should treat management outlook as a wake-up call and try to learn from what we can charitably call "constructive criticism." A brief rundown:

Employers want "subject matter experts." Senior executives want younger workers to get ahead at work by becoming experts in their fields (65% of managers deem this "very important). Clients and customers buy from experts, as they deem them trustworthy and knowledgeable about the products and services they sell. And management is quick to promote subject-matter experts who can connect with clients.

There's a "top three" skills for managers. Senior executives want three more things, or attributes, from Gen Y workers. They want the ability to prioritize (87% say so); a positive attitude (86%); and good teamwork skills (86%). When managers see an easily distracted worker who doesn't play well with others, they see a high-maintenance employee to be sent out the door as soon as possible.

Managers expect patience. The study says it takes four years or more to become a manager, and that it pays to be visible; 66% of managers say they prefer in-person meetings at work over potential short-cut meeting technologies such as Skype or social networks.

You must be "entrepreneurs." It may seem contrary to the conventional wisdom that managers want employees they can control, but Gen Y workers who exhibit the tendencies of entrepreneurs are sought after in corporate America. The takeaway for younger workers is to show initiative, be creative and go ahead and -- selectively -- challenge some conventional wisdom.

Turning negative perceptions around isn't easy, but that's the task for Gen Y workers looking to get ahead in their careers.

"Gen Y's are crucial to the development and growth of our economy, yet managers have a negative impression of them, and it's creating workplace drama," says Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding. "Managers should be setting proper expectations, giving them career support and helping them develop the skills they will need today and in the future."

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