Ernst & Young Research: Management shift of having younger managers results in challenges ahead

Manager 2

A young manager interacting with colleagues (Photo credit: aldenchadwick)

Accounting giant Ernst & Young released new research today that shows a significant shift in Generations Y and X moving into management roles in the past five years and provides context, in light of this shift, for managing the generational mix. The research also explores perks that matter most to retain and engage employees of different age groups, and perceived strengths and weaknesses of members and managers of each generation.

EY’s external online generations survey of more than 1,200 US, cross-company professionals includes evenly split responses from managers and non-managers in three select generations — Gen Y/millennials: currently ages 18-32; Gen X: ages 33-48; and baby boomers: ages 49-67.

The survey reveals that management is evolving quickly: between 2008 and 2013 alone, 87% of Gen Y managers surveyed took on a management role vs. 38% of Gen X and 19% of baby boomer managers. By comparison, from 2003 to 2008, 12% Gen Y, 30% Gen X and 23% of boomers moved into management.

In considering today’s economic climate, most respondents selected Gen X (80%) as being equipped to manage effectively, followed closely by boomers (76%) and Gen Y (27%). Looking ahead to the economic conditions of 2020, respondents’ positive opinion of Gen X managers (65%) still persists and outpaces boomers (27%) and Gen Y, but the expectations that Gen Y will manage effectively in 2020 nearly double (from 27% now to 51% in 2020). As expected, boomers were least likely to be identified as equipped to manage effectively in 2020 economic conditions, possibly because respondents expect more boomers to move into retirement.

“As management shifts to younger generations, the research reveals areas companies can focus on to enhance skill sets, address the challenges of managing multiple generations, and retain and engage employees by understanding which workplace perks they may value most,” said Karyn Twaronite, the EY Americas Inclusiveness Officer and a partner of Ernst & Young LLP. “While it’s encouraging that millennials are expected to significantly grow their managerial skills by 2020, the onus is on companies to also give them equitable opportunities to gain the right mentors, sponsors, career experiences and training to capitalize on this optimism.”

The survey findings will be discussed at a Sept. 10 event and webcast exclusively sponsored and hosted by Ernst & Young LLP to celebrate the publication of bestselling author Dan Schawbel’s latest book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (available today, Sept. 3, from St. Martin’s Press, a division of MacMillan), which explores ways millennials and other generations can advance their careers. Schawbel will deliver a first-of-its-kind keynote on the book and moderate a multi-generational panel of executives and professionals from American Express, Johnson & Johnson and EY, as well as the Gen Y CEO of The Muse who is on Forbes‘ 2012 “30 Under 30” list. A media advisory with more detail, including how to register for the webcast, is available here.

Managing the generational mix

Three quarters (75%) of respondents who identified as managers agree that managing multi-generational teams is a challenge and one in five managers (20%) report managing a mostly even mix of employees from all three generations.

Different work expectations (77%) and a lack of comfort with younger employees managing older employees (72%) were the leading challenges identified across all generations. However, more than two-thirds (69%) of respondents said their organization has made some effort toward alleviating the challenges. Company efforts include work style accommodations (37%), team-building exercises (36%), generational differences training (32%), cross-generational networking (26%) and tailored communications (25%).

“We estimate that more than 60% of our workforce at Ernst & Young LLP today is Gen Y,” Twaronite added. “In response, we’ve taken a proactive approach to managing the evolving generational mix in our business, from hosting firm-wide webcasts on generational differences and similarities, to tailoring our recruiting, talent development and communications practices to best appeal to an increasing millennial population. Investments like these are a prerequisite for building high-performing, generationally-diverse teams.”

Retention and engagement of younger executive managers

In polling respondents about the importance of various workplace perks, cash is still king among all the generations and ranked first by nearly half of them (49%), while benefits such as healthcare and retirement ranked first by 22%. Boomers were significantly more likely to identify benefits as the most important perk compared to younger generations (29% vs. 19% Gen X and 17% Gen Y).

  • Given the increased focus on workplace flexibility in the news today, it’s interesting to note that flexibility is most important among the non-cash/benefits perks, with 18% ranking it first. Gen X rated flexibility as the most important perk (21%) over top-notch benefits (19%), with the survey also revealing they would be more likely to walk away from their current job in the absence of day-to-day flexibility (38% vs. 33% Gen Y and 25% boomers).
  • While women (20%) across all generations valued flexibility slightly more than men (16%), surprisingly men were more likely to say they would “walk away” from a job if day-to-day flexibility was not offered (34% men vs. 30% women). Gen X men (40%) were the most likely to leave if flexibility was not offered, followed by Gen X women (37%), Gen Y men (36%) and Gen Y women (30%).
  • Looking to the future of flexibility, while 62% of all respondents currently work standard office hours, only 50% expect to do so in five to 10 years. This is particularly true with Gen Y, as 64% currently work standard office hours and only 47% expect to in five to 10 years.
  • Examining another perk, Gen Y respondents were significantly more likely to prefer promotions (13%) than Gen X (5%) and boomers (4%).
  • Across all generations, women (8%) and men (7%) nearly equally valued promotions, with Gen Y women (16%) valuing them the most, followed by Gen Y men (10%).

Generational Strengths and Weaknesses

While every individual is different, the survey revealed perceived strengths and weaknesses of both the members and managers of each generation that can be instructive as companies work to effectively manage, engage and strengthen the generational mix.

Gen X

  • Members of Gen X lead the pack when it comes to positive perceptions of both the characteristics and management skills of each generation. Members of Gen X were cited as “best” among the generations in seven out of 11 attributes, including being a “revenue generator” (58%) as well as possessing traits of “adaptability” (49%), “problem-solving” (57%) and “collaboration” (53%). However, members of Gen X lag behind boomers in being perceived as “best” at displaying executive presence (28% vs. 66%) and being cost effective (34% vs. 59%).
  • In evaluating Gen X managers, seven in 10 respondents said they are best equipped to manage teams effectively overall (70%), compared to boomers (25%) and Gen Y (5%).

Gen Y

  • Members of Gen Y scored high marks for being “enthusiastic” (68% agree) but had lower scores for being perceived as a “team player” (45%), “hardworking” (39%) and “a productive part of my organization” (58%). They also scored highest in three out of four negative traits, such as being perceived as “entitled” (68%). Yet it’s interesting to note that members of every generation view their own generation as entitled to a degree, including 60% Gen Y, 49% Gen X and 27% boomers. Looking at strengths, members of Gen Y were viewed as the “best” at being “tech savvy” (78%) and social media opportunists who leverage social media beyond marketing (70%). They also outscored boomers for being the “best” at “collaboration” (27% vs. 20%), “adaptability” (41% vs. 10%) and being “entrepreneurial” (29% vs. 15%).
  • Gen Y managers (69%) just surpassed Gen X (68%) managers in displaying “diversity” managerial skills, or the ability to build culturally competent teams and to not discriminate based on race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, etc. While Gen Y managers earned the fewest mentions for being the “best” at displaying eight out of 11 management skills, they outpaced boomer managers (33% vs. 16%) in their ability to be the best “inclusive” leaders, or involving a diverse set of people in providing opportunities, developing strategies and making decisions.


  • Members of the boomer generation scored high in being a productive part of organizations (69%), “hardworking” (73%, the highest), a “team player” (56%), and nurturing and essential for others’ development (55%). While members of the boomer generation were strong performers in most areas, they were not viewed as the “best” generation in areas such as being adaptable (10%) and collaborative (20%).
  • Boomer managers received the lowest scores of all three generations in being “best” at “diversity” (12%), “flexibility” (21%) and “inclusive” leadership (16%) skills. However, boomers edged out Gen X as the “best” generation to “manage in challenging times” (48% vs. 44%). Boomers’ second highest rating was for displaying “leadership,” trailing Gen X slightly for their proficiency in displaying these skills (44% vs. 49% Gen X).

From: Ernst & Young LLP

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