Managing Gen Y: In Loco Parentis?

The worst thing you can do as a manager is to treat Gen Y employees like children. And sometimes it’s hard …especially if they  happen to be similar in age to your own adult children! It’s easy to fall into that parent/child interactive mode sometimes, but it’s a real trap when managing.

The words “must”, “should”, “needs to” are anathema to Gen-Y and, in fact, using these words tends to rile up most people. I find that being parental in speech (and in my coaching) tends to draw out the child in others. I have been sensitized to it by my younger clients and the groups of Gen-Y people with whom I work on a regular basis.

Photo credit Photostock

For example, when managing and giving feedback to younger workers on how to behave, as in…

  • “You must be more aware of…”
  • “You should realize that…”
  • “You really need to be more…”

The key is not to talk down to younger workers or make them feel disrespected. From what I’ve been reading and from personal encounters, Gen Y’s in general have been treated as valued members of the family whose thoughts and feelings are important.

Bruce Tulgan says in Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, “Generation Y has gotten more respect from their parents and elders than any other generation in history.” They expect as much on the job and when they don’t feel they’re getting it, will usually speak up.

Gen Y’s have had a highly engaged parental upbringing, and they’ve been guided, directed, supported, coached and protected more than previous generations. There are some remarkable stories circulating about parents contacting employers over hours, assignments, promotions and even pay. Such involvement seems inappropriate, yet it happens.

Some say Gen Y kids have been over-parented and this continues during early adulthood, even into their first jobs. The question isn’t whether you find this correct or appropriate or not. Managers today are having to grapple with it, in some cases dealing with parental phone calls.

As a manager or leader, you can be mindful of this generational difference. When I avoid using parental language, I get less resistance and defensiveness, and more cooperation.

Younger workers, regardless of the kind of parenting they have had, need  strong, not weak managing. Author Tulgan calls this approach in loco parentis management, a Latin term which means “in the place of a parent.”

Tulgan recommends taking over the tutoring parts of parenting, without taking over the emotional parts:

  • Show them you care.
  • Give them boundaries and structure
  • Help them keep score.
  • Negotiate special rewards in very small increments.

The best ways I’ve discovered is to show them that I care about their success and try to make it a priority to spend time with them.

I can be a guide and coach and teacher for them. I can provide regular course corrections so they know how to keep on track with their personal goals and internal motivation. I can be honest with them about their progress and help them achieve success and rewards for incremental milestones. I can’t be their parent, but I can be a confident leader and mentor.

What’s been your experience managing younger workers? Have you had any contact from parents? I’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to share in private, email me at

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