Why, oh, Y

Why, oh, Y

They're different from baby boomers, more demanding than generation X, and they'll be doing your job one day. Laura Fragiacomo and Divina Paredes look at what makes generation Y tick in the workplace.

Baby boomers born in the 15 years after World War II will start reaching retirement age this year. They outnumber generation X by 2:1, and it doesn't take a mathematician to work out there won't be enough people to fill the jobs vacated by the boomers. Born from 1982 onwards, generation Y outnumbers the Xers and over time will attain critical mass. However, organisations looking to generation Y as fodder to fuel the engines of business are set to be sorely disappointed.

Also known as Millennials, Nexters, Echo Boomers or Yers; generation Y is a different breed. Yers think differently, behave differently, and their beliefs and value systems are decidedly different to their older counterparts. This is the workforce of the future and the group fundamental to long-term sustainability. Failure to understand what drives gen Y will result in failure to attract or retain the very people who hold the key to an organisation's survival.

"When the skills shortage was flagged, nobody was prepared to believe or address it,"says Lisa Norris, regional director for recruitment solutions at Spherion. "If you don't look at the ageing population and the role of generation Y in the skills shortage, there won't be any long-term business success. There is little point to addressing something that's already happened; the result will be organisations throwing money at people, and this may not yield the right result given that money is not the primary motivator for generation Y."

Avril Henry, executive director of AHRevelations, has been researching generational diversity for the past five years and believes generation Y has been learning from their predecessors' mistakes. "Generation Y stood on the sidelines watching the boomers and Xers sacrifice lifestyle for work, and they won't be making the same mistakes. Y will only work for you on their terms. They are the most technologically sophisticated generation, they're educated, highly employable, and they know it."

While generation X's mantra was 'how can I add value to the organisation?', generation Y grew up listening to Radio WIIFM (What's In It For Me?). Henry believes generation Y is entering the workforce in an exciting era of expanded job opportunities where the power has been transferred to the employees. Corporate loyalty is dead and job-hopping is par for the course. Stick to a job for too long and a Yer is apt to wonder what's wrong with you.

Sally Breed, director of Auckland-based IT@Work Recruitment, says Generation Y members are attracted to "dynamic fast moving organisations"

"As job seekers, Generation Y questions focus around what the pros-pective employer may offer them - where they will fit within the organisation's structure, the culture, mentoring and training opportunities. They know they have a choice and they can be selective." A number of businesses, meanwhile, are becoming more cognisant of the need to present themselves as exciting places to be, and using their Generation Y employees to reach their target market, she adds.

"We see many of the high tech marketing-focused organisations, especially the telcos, doing some brilliantly innovative advertising campaigns to attract the Generation Y job seeker by way of promoting their culture and technology."

Nurturing the echo boomers

Once the young employees are in, the companies face another challenge - making them stay. Auckland-based Andrea Molloy, personal coach who has worked with staff in networked enterprises in New Zealand and Australia, says from her experience, Kiwi Yers, like their counterparts offshore, tend to stay on the job for a year-and-a-half, to two years.

She points out one of the key things about attracting, managing and retaining generation Y especially in IT is helping them enjoy their work. "IT directors or managers need to realise they can't be mind readers. And if generation Y staff don't tell them what they want or what they need to be able to enjoy their jobs, then it is up to the IT director to actually ask the staff and find out."

Molloy, whose forthcoming book Work Happy, tackles this issue, is emphatic about the need to recognise Yers' distinct concept of "work/life balance".

"Work/life balance isn't just for young mothers or young parents because generation Y staff may have a lot of other interests outside of work," she says.

"You may have someone studying or representing NZ in sports. So find out what do they need, because jobs aren't nine to five any longer."

Leadership training could also differ for this group. A "regular, boring training course" may not work for the young staff, says Molloy. She says inspiring leadership in this group would include mentoring, coaching or giving them special projects so they would feel they are really included in the team and are contributing as well.

"Those small things have such a huge impact especially on those younger workers. I think it is more likely to make them more excel in their jobs."

She says managers need to realise these young staff may leave after the company has invested time and money. "But if you can nurture them as much as possible, more likely they will stay with you. Or, like what a lot of people are doing now, is go to another company then perhaps come back." She says returning employees seem to be happening more and more especially in New Zealand organisations which have smaller networks and staff numbers.

Where's the Y in IT?

Some of the largest employers are only just coming to grips with how the new wave of gen Y employees will affect their organisations, let alone how it will affect IT departments.

As to those managing young IT staff, Breed of IT@Work Recruitment says, "Generation Y are excited about leading edge technology and what impact it will have on the future. No matter what the IT role, the opportunity to be involved in projects is extremely appealing rather than a day-to-day purely operational function."

Branko Panich, head of IT strategy at Westpac, is forthcoming about the bank's recruitment programs. Panich says Yers like to know how they fit into the big picture and it's important to show them how everything comes together. Flexibility and diversity of experience are the keys to engaging with gen Y - they're simply not prepared to lock themselves into a job or an organisation. And although he concedes there are no guarantees they will stay, Panich believes companies can try to create an environment where there will be no reason to leave.

The graduate program at Westpac includes a number of compulsory rotations lasting between four and six months, which provide exposure to different parts of the business.

Panich advocates taking a portfolio approach to work. Manage staff as a resource pool and treat jobs as assignments rather than line jobs. Once the assignment is completed, teams are absorbed back into the resource pool to be redeployed, he says.<p/>It's the culture, stupid

The disparity between the number of jobs being created and the shrinking pool of talent available to fill them means generation Y can afford to be selective.

"Gen Y will put your company's culture under the microscope and if they don't like what they see they'll walk away. Yers will not apply for jobs with organisations they perceive have poor policies and stupid procedures. If they don't believe in what the organisation stands for, they won't bother applying," warns Henry.

As the skills shortage starts to bite, organisations will find it increasingly difficult to go to the market to bring in the skill sets they need - these will have to be developed internally. Slotting people into line jobs and keeping them there will be a thing of the past. Companies on the ball will look at the talent within and determine how best to harness it.

Hierarchies are set to become flatter than ever and will be replaced with self-led teams.

It's too early to judge what sort of leaders Yers will make, but social researcher Mark McCrindle does not see gen Y as seeking power and respect as did previous generations. Y has active interests outside work, and when they look at those in leadership roles, they don't see a lifestyle they aspire to, simply because it doesn't support a work/life balance.

"Yers were exposed to leadership at a very early age, both at school and in workplaces such as McDonald's - it's no big deal to them. They're sceptical of the empowered leader, preferring a collaborative team-based approach, so it's unlikely that they will be adopting the old models of authoritarian leadership. The autocrat is being superseded by the notion of the leader as guide and mentor," says McCrindle.

What gen Y wants is the opportunity to explore a variety of different jobs and a supportive work environment flexible enough to allow them to pursue an active life outside of the workplace.

"Most managers define flexibility as part-time work that takes place between 9.30am and 2.30pm for women with school-age children. It's not," says Henry.

"People won't be able to afford to just stop working, however, they will be moving in and out of the workforce when it suits them. They want the flexibility to have a lifestyle. And if they don't get it, Yers in particular will be voting with their feet."


Seniors Before 1925

Builder 1926-1945

Baby Boomers 1946-1964

Generation X 1965-1981

Generation Y 1982-2000

Top motivators for Gen Y

Inspiring leadership


Regular, constructive feedback

Access to state-of-the-art training

Inclusive team environment

Clear understanding of their role in the big picture

Opportunity to contribute

Recognition and reward

Flexibility in terms of hours

Cutting-edge technology

How to attract, manage and retain generation Y

Redefine expectations

Long-term employment will be four to five years and nine to five is out

Provide training

Not just technical training. Include leadership training, conflict resolution and communication skills

Be inclusive

Don't wait too long before providing an opportunity for Y to contributeGive recognition. A card, movie tickets, dinner or even a simple 'thank you' make people feel valued

Make the workplace more inviting

Colour, rest and recreation rooms, plants, funky meeting rooms. Provide food - even if it is a loaf of bread, a few spreads and bowls of fruit.

Build relationships. Create a sense of belonging. Ensure management has first class communication skills - Y is loyal to people, not organisations.

Communicate. Find out what they want. Communicate openly and honestly - corporate double-speak is a dead language

Respect their strengths. Gen Y was weaned on technology. Smart managers will be willing to be up-mentored by Yers on technology.

Offer flexibility. Both in terms of hours and trust them to work from home. Provide opportunities to do different jobs.

Career planning advice. Offer opportunities for growth and development according to individual needs. Show them a path that will allow them to change paths within the same company.

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