Generation Y: A New Kind of Employee

By David S. Brown, Esq.

Over the next decade, 64 million skilled workers will be able to retire.  Additionally, many Generation X workers are opting out of long hours in exchange for more family friendly positions.  This means that marketing to Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, Generation Next, the Net Generation, Echo Boomers, the iGeneration, and the Google Generation will become a high priority for many businesses.  Generation Y is made up of individuals born between 1977 and 2002.  With 79.8 million members born between 1977 and 1995, they outnumber the baby boomers and are more than three times the size of Generation X.  This article will help you understand who they are; how they think; how to attract them to your company; and how to keep them happy and productive as long term employees.

Who Are They?

“Generation Y combines the can-do attitude of Veterans, the teamwork ethic of Boomers and the technological savvy of Generation X.”  They are the most diverse generation in history as they were born to the most diverse mix of parents in history.  For example, one third of the generation was born to single, unwed mothers.   Additionally, Generation Y is less white and more brown than any generation to come before it.

The great majority of Generation Y are the children of Baby Boomers.  As a result, they grew up in a very structured, busy and over planned world involving all sorts of lessons, camps and group activities.  This slew of activities contributed to Generation Y being more tolerant of racial and cultural differences than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.  For example, gay rights and non-traditional gender roles are more widely accepted by this generation than any other generation.  They also tend to work best in groups and enjoy collaborating on projects, rather than handling tasks on their own.  Generation Y places high value on developing good interpersonal skills and in “getting along”, and the activities of their youth taught them to be polite and to believe in manners.

These same activities have caused Generation Y to exhibit a great deal of anxiety as well.  Specifically, individuals of this generation tend to crave structure, attention and feedback from their superiors.  As one observer put it, “Gen Yers have grown up getting constant feedback and recognition from teachers, parents and coaches and can resent it or feel lost if communication from bosses isn’t more regular.”  Another expert opines that “The millennium generation has been brought up in the most child-centered generation ever.  They’ve been programmed and nurtured.  Their expectations are different.  The millennial expects to be told how they’re doing.”  Certainty and security are key for this Generation.  To this end, “Gen Yers want to know everything up front as far as what is expected and what criteria will be used to evaluate their performance.”

Generation Y has been described as ambitious and highly motivated.  They aim to work faster and better than other workers and they want to make an important impact on day one.  Bruce Tulgan, the founder of leading generational-research firm Rainmaker Thinking described Generation Y by stating “This is the most high-maintenance workforce in the history of the world.  The good news is[,] they’re also going to be the most high-performing workforce in the history of the world.  They walk in with more information in their heads, more information at their fingertips – and, sure, they have high expectations, but they have the highest expectations first and foremost for themselves.”

Perhaps Generation Y’s most distinct feature is their knack for technology.  It’s no secret that Generation Y is the world’s first native online population.  They grew up with technology and they are plugged-in twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  They’ve mastered televisions, gaming systems, dvd’s, cd’s, mp3’s, iPod’s, laptop computers, cell phones, e-mail, the internet, instant messaging, text messaging, Facebook and much more.  They’ve even proven successful in launching viable online businesses – Facebook and Napster are two great examples.  A recent survey indicates that ninety percent of Gen Yers in the U.S. own a PC, while 82 percent own a cell phone.  Their familiarity with technology and media has lead to a generation of multitaskers who are able to conduct assignments quickly while listening to music, surfing the internet, or watching movies.

How Generation Y Thinks

The first thing that has to be understood when marketing to Generation Y is that they want to work, but they don’t want work to be their life.  Unlike their parents generation, which tends to put a high priority on career, today’s youngest workers are more interested in making their jobs accommodate their family and personal lives.  They want jobs with flexibility, telecommuting options and the ability to go part time or leave the workforce temporarily when children are in the picture.

When it comes to loyalty, the companies that they work for don’t receive high priority.  In fact, some experts have opined that Generation Y puts their employer at the very bottom of their list – behind their families, their friends, their communities, their co-workers and, of course, themselves.  Early research indicates that the average Gen Yer has been changing jobs every 1.1 years. 

Generation Y’s quick to jump ship attitude can be explained at least partially by their world view.  From day one, Gen Yers have been told that they can be anything they can imagine.  It’s an idea they’ve clung to as they’ve grown up and as their outlook was shaken by the Columbine shootings and 9/11.  More than the nuclear threat of their parents’ day, those attacks were immediate, potentially personal, and completely unpredictable.  Add in a never ending news reel of stories about global warming, the impending budget crisis and the certain failure of Social Security and its easy to understand Generation Y’s outlook.  They know that they are not promised a healthy, happy tomorrow – so, they’re determined to live their best lives now.

To further complicate matters, Generation Y is working with the largest safety net this world has ever seen.  More than half of new college graduates move back to their parents’ homes after collecting their degrees.  This parental support gives Gen Yers the financial support and time that they need to pick the job that they really want.  Thus, companies are being forced to think more creatively about how to offer positions with better work-life balance, while maintaining profits and still cutting costs.
 
How to Attract Gen Yers and How to Keep Them Happy Once You Do

Benefits, technology, family friendly hours, and an inclusive and comfortable work environment seem to be the keys to attracting the most promising members of Generation Y.  A survey by the Diversified Investment Advisors of Purchase, NY reported that 37 percent of Generation Yers expect to start saving for retirement before they reach 25, with 49 percent who say retirement benefits are very important when accepting a position.  Among those eligible, 70% of Generation Y respondents contribute to their 401(k) plan.  It’s important to remember that Generation Y has grown up through massive layoffs in the 1980’s, the dot-com bust, the Enron Scandal and most recently, the real estate bubble which resulted in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Thus, security and benefits are often more important to Generation Y than their hourly rate – although I’m not suggesting that they’ll work for free.

While Boomers may expect a phone call, or an in person meeting, Generation Y would much rather communicate via e-mail, or instant messaging.  Thus, it’s imperative that employers offer up-to-date computer systems, work from home capability, and cell phone plans that include data and texting.  After all, it feels natural for Generation Y to check in by BlackBerry all weekend as long as they have flexibility during the week.

Flexible hours can come in many forms.  Some companies have instituted a four day work week consisting of four ten hour days.  Others permit flextime, which allows their employees to arrive and depart during hours that are more convenient for them than the traditional work hours.  Some companies go as far as allowing each employee to work from home at least one day a week – or for a period of time after an injury or the birth of a child.  Whatever form it takes, flexible hours are a real hit with Generation Y.

With respect to dress, Generation Y is used to going casual.  They’ve spent four to ten years attending college and graduate school classes in their sweat clothes and pajamas, so jumping right to a suit and tie can be quite a drag.  Many of them feel they can be just as, or more productive than their predecessors while sporting flip-flops and capri pants.  Oh yeah, they have lots of tattoos and piercings too.  In fact, Generation Y is all about quietly expressing themselves with small statements that won’t cause trouble – a funky T-shirt under a blazer, artsy jewelry, silly socks.

The most important thing to remember after you’ve successfully recruited a few Gen Yers, is that you have to make them feel like they are a contributing member of your team from day one.  Feeling like they are making a difference is the single most motivating factor for Generation Y employees.  This can be done by assigning them significant tasks and following up with as much feedback and guidance as possible.  If your company is unable to make them feel like they are making a difference, or show them the attention that they desire in the form of guidance and feedback, they’ll quickly seek out another employer that they feel will be more appreciative of the skills and talents that they have to offer.  However; if you keep the foregoing tips in mind and make an effort to adapt your workplace, you will attract and keep as many Generation Y employees as you can handle. 

David S. Brown is an Associate in Commercial Collections who practices in the Commercial Banking, Commercial Business, Special Collections and Commercial/Agency Services Groups. He is based in the Cleveland office and can be reached at (216) 685-1062 or dbrown@weltman.com.
WORKS CITED:

Hira, Nadira A, Attracting the twentysomething worker, Fortune, May 15, 2007, http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2007/05/28/100033934

Trunk, Penelope, What Generation Y Really Wants, TIME, July 5, 2007, http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1640395,00.html

Armour, Stephanie, Generation Y: They’ve arrived at work with a new attitude, USA TODAY, November 6, 2005, www.usatoday.com/money/workplace/2005-11-06-gen-y_x.htm

Coates, Julie, Generation Y – The Millennial Generation, from Generational Learning Styles, Published by LEARN Books, 2007, http://honolulu.hawaii.edu/intranet/committees/FacDevCom/guidebk/teachtip/GenY.htm

Generation Y, Wikipedia, April 21, 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Y

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One thought on “Generation Y: A New Kind of Employee

  1. Thanks for sharing your insight about Generation Y. They are potentially the “perfect” work generation: combining the work ethic of the Mature Generation with the entrepreneurial spirit of the Boomers and with the creativity of Gen. X. I would disagree slightly with your dates. According to Strauss & Howe (the leading demographers of our country) Gen. Y are those born between 1982 and 2002. That’s still a large group but the demarcation line between Gen. X and Y is 1982 (not 1977).

    The biggest challenge employers will have with the Millenials is their sense of entitlement. They want advancement quickly. It’s not a bad thing, but it is one that will challenge companies and organizations.

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