Understanding the world of Generation Y is critical when it comes to managing, motivating, and retaining these young employees in the workplace, said Devon Brown, PhD., director of leadership development at FCCServices in Denver, Colo., at the Cooperative Network annual meeting in Rochester, Minn., Nov. 14–16.
Generation Y consists of people born generally between 1981 and 2000. With a Baby Boomer generation of approximately 70 million people approaching retirement and a Generation X of only half that size ready to take over, the 70 or 80 million people of Generation Y will be a major part of the workforce sooner rather than later.
“To understand a generation, you need to understand their experiences as kids and what their parents’ experiences were,” Brown said. He outlined the workforce in generations, starting with the Baby Boomers. While he defined the entire Boomer generation as traditionalists, with strong company loyalty and a work ethic that values face time at the office, Brown described older Baby Boomers, born generally from 1946–1953, as idealists, having come of age in the politically active 1960s and 1970s. This generation, he said, often sacrificed family for professional advancement. The younger Boomers are generally those born between the years 1954–1964. Brown said they learned through experiences like Watergate that politicians can’t be trusted and ideals don’t easily translate into action.
Following the Boomers is Generation X, generally born between 1965 and 1980 and raised by the competitive, hard-working older Baby Boomers. Brown said Generation X’ers generally have a “work to live” approach and do not define themselves by their jobs.
Generation Y, raised primarily by the younger Baby Boomers, grew up in affluence under what Brown called child-centered parenting, with mostly two working parents pampering their children out of guilt. Generation Y’ers, he said, are used to a great deal of praise and feedback and tend to be devoted to their own careers rather than their companies, something their Baby Boomer bosses might have a hard time understanding. They expect speed in everything from work tools to advancement, and they want freedom and entertainment in all aspects of life, including work.
Also, in part because Generation Y puts off marriage and family longer than previous generations did and is more likely to live with parents after college, Brown said younger workers are more likely than their elders to quit a job. He noted that 36 percent of Generation Y employees leave their jobs in less than a year, and 78 percent of Generation Y college graduates leave their first job in less than two years. Clearly, as Brown showed, retention of strong Generation Y employees is a challenge.
“The challenge is not to change people necessarily, but to change and adapt in the workplace so employers can work with them,” Brown said. That means accepting the generation as it is and embracing all it has to offer, he added. Brown pointed out that Generation Y is generally very well educated and global in nature; these young workers are also digital natives. In addition, he said Generation Y tends to be goal-oriented and value corporate integrity, so a company’s mission becomes very important.
Generation Y’ers are also team-oriented, having grown up collaborating online and in school and extracurricular projects. Therefore, Brown said these young workers respond well to group projects. He said they also tend to prefer individualized training focused on lifelong learning, and they are motivated more by flexibility that allows for a balance between work and life—as well as opportunities for professional growth—than just by salary.
Brown listed key points for successfully retaining Generation Y talent: rethinking what it means to be a hard worker by considering quality of results rather than number of hours; embracing technology and innovative products and solutions; learning to live with social network systems instead of banning them from the office; and keeping the big picture in mind rather than obsessing over details like attire.