by Lionel Wijesiri
With each fresh batch of graduates entering the workforce, there are now four distinct generations vying for vacancy spots. The young recruits are known as Generation Y. They were born between 1981 and 1999. The other three types are: Generation X (1965 to 1980), Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964) and Traditionalists (pre 1945).
The Baby Boomer Bomb Detonated in 1946 - as millions of people who served in the World War II returned home, leading to the biggest population boom in the world. 78 million Baby Boomers were born between the years of 1946 and 1964 in the United States alone. The boom lasted until the introduction of the birth control pill in 1964.
Baby Boomers have worked hard all their lives hoping to have some rewards for it later. Generation X, who followed, continued the good work but had the assistance of the basic technology. They enjoyed their lives better than the boomers. The Gen-Y, who arrived thereafter, has become the pampered lot thanks to the two previous generations. All their lives they have been asked questions by their parents and had their opinions acted on. For example, “Where do you want to go for vacation? Where do you want to go for dinner? What room in the new house would you like? What colour would you like it?
Gen-Y has grown up and matured in a time of rapid and constant change. Here are some of the important factors that have influenced this generation.
Internet and online communication
Increased levels of single-parent families
Rapid technological change
Helicopter parents and high levels of structured activities
Globalization of world economics leading to the remaking of corporate culture
IPhones, smartphones, iPods and iPads
Characteristics of Gen-Y
Today, the world revolves around them. They need to be treated differently as a result. For one reason, they are having choices of jobs. So, today’s employer needs to understand how he should motivate and work more effectively with a Gen-Y employee in order to get and keep their enthusiasm and loyalty they bring to a new career.
On a bad day, Gen-Y employee can be accused of being power hungry and overly optimistic. However, their technological savvies, ambition and diversity can be a boon if leveraged well. Gen-Y may be different but if employers know how to manage them well, these differences can be a source of creativity instead of conflict.
What does a Gen-Y employee expect from a job?
Flexibility — Having written the MBA thesis using Internet-based research and maintained their dairies and communicated with outside world in smartphones or BlackBerrys and aced exams without ever going to class, Gen-Y is used to thriving in an independent atmosphere. Their “work at my own pace” culture may clash with a company dependent on daily meetings and catch-ups. As long as they meet their goals and deadlines, they’re looking to do it how and where they choose.
Fair credit — Gen-Y is used to being recognized for the slightest accomplishment and may expect to continue hauling in trophies for their triumphs. They’ll begin building a reputation on Day One and expect credit for hard work. They request access to decision-makers early on their career. Climbing the ladder for three years just to get face time with the top brass may not sit well with the employers.
Socializing – Gen-Y relishes socializing even at work and an employer might not see the point in his staff having a ‘social life’ at work. After all, he would say, “I am paying them to do a job and they don’t need to waste time with idle chat to do it!” This is true in theory, but Gen-Y sees the situation a bit differently. They depend on their friendships for their sense of fun, trust, community and their identity. In today’s work environment that leaves little or no room for building social relationships can become cold and has been identified as a key reason why Gen-Ys will leave a company.
A savvy employer can channel the Gen-Y need for social connections at work in ways that are not disruptive to the day and in ways that can be constructive for the business.
a.) Ask them to work together on projects for the company (marketing, staff meeting agendas, trainings)
b.) Have team training days that include a lot of interaction and use these times to have purely social/bonding lunch
c.) Wherever possible, try to create a friendly, social environment. This could be in the form of asking them about their life outside work or just taking a few minutes here and there for a small chat
d.) Incentivize them to use their social networking knowledge and following constructively for the benefit of the office: Eg- Managing the company in Facebook/Twitter account
Career path: Gen-Y employees are renowned for their shorter tenures in each job. As an employer regularly having young staff leaving your company after 12 or 18 months can be very frustrating, especially when the company just spent this time getting them trained up and integrated! It seems as though they are being ungrateful and flaky. Research has shown that this behaviour in Gen-Y recruits is often because they are seeking variety and new challenges.
Finding ways to offer the Gen-Y team more variety and new challenges will be key to helping retain them longer term working on the team.
a.) Give them a career path- not just a job: Gen-Y individuals always look to the horizon while working in the current situation. If you can set it up that they have a career and on-going development with your company, you will gain more commitment and buy-in from Gen-Y employees
b.) Provide cross-training in other roles in the company, thereby providing new tasks, responsibilities and extended duties outside of the usual job description for their role
c.) Find ways to challenge Gen-Y employees by providing them with on-going continuing education that benefit your company
d.) Regularly, let them know how the work they do contributes to the bigger picture – (the growth and success of your business)
Technology: A big part of the life of every Gen-Y is the link to technology, particularly in terms of hi-tech communication; e-mail and online chatting are just another form of talking for Gen-Y. If your company tends not to use e-mail or use computers for booking appointments or if all your technology is 10 years behind the times, you may find it hard to attract Gen-Y staff in the long term.
Updated: Image and social status are big draw-cards for Gen-Y. If they believe your company to be a cool place to work, you are likely to attract and keep more of them. Best global companies are leading in their fields today mostly because they have tapped into the cool consciousness of Gen-Y consumers. They have a breezy, no-fuss style that is up-to-date and evolving. You can use this same ethos in your company, simply by updating your décor, having reasonably recent music playing, using current technology and having smart uniforms for staff.
Asking Gen-Y staff what they believe would improve the image of the company may provide valuable insights for you and even if you can’t adopt all the changes they suggest, perhaps a few steps towards them would help.
The unique needs and desires of Generation Y is a reality that every employer is going to face in growing frequency. It is important that companies don’t look at their quirks as a burden to bear but as an opportunity to grow. If companies learn to navigate, cater roles to and channel the energies of Gen-Y employees, they will find that their companies will thrive in no time.
The bottom line is that Gen-Y as a group is incredibly talented, technology savvy, flexible and generally excellent team players.