Why it doesn't pay to pigeonhole Gen Y

Sep 10 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Generation Y workers are all too often written off as tree hugging, selfish, lone wolves, unable or unwilling to stick with an employer, poor at team working and demanding not just the earth but that the earth is looked after.

Yet in many respects these 18-30 year olds are no different from previous generations, new British research has argued.

A study by consultancy Penna and the HR body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has suggested some of the most common assumptions employers have about different generations may be wrong.

While communication on social responsibility and the "green" agenda is typically targeted at Generation Y, it is often more the Baby Boomers (aged between 45 and 60) who take an employer's reputation in these areas into account when applying for a job.

Generation Y is also often tarred as being a "me" generation solely driven by individual needs and demands, whereas in fact often under 30s commonly look for an environment where they can feel part of a team and make friends.

Generation Y workers are also said, in what is a back-handed compliment, to like to be in control of their own career development.

That may well be the case, but it is the baby boomers who are the least happy with their personal development opportunities, found Penna and the CIPD.

The notion they are serially disloyal and constantly at the ready to jump ship for their own career progression may also be flawed.

The research argued that half of those polled said they in fact intended to stay with their employer for the next five years.

Anne Riley, managing director of Penna Recruitment Communications, said: "The findings from this research have wide implications for businesses from how they attract staff to how they retain them.

"Unless employers really understand what the different generations have to offer and what they expect out of the workplace then misunderstanding and resentment can arise particularly in inter-generational teams.

"At its worst this conflict can lead to more time dedicated to conflict resolution and poor performance leading to a less successful business. However, get it right and the business can reap the rewards of a generationally diverse workplace such as a broader talent pool from which to recruit as well as the creativity and innovation that comes with generational interaction," she added.

Younger people may be turned off applying for a company if they can't apply for a role online, while baby boomers and veterans will resist jobs if the hiring process involves an assessment centre, Riley argued.

"Just understanding the differing views of the recruitment process can make an enormous difference to a company wanting to appeal to candidates across the generations," she added.

"Of course there is no 'one size fits all' solution but there are some common traits among the generations. Understanding the similarities is as important as understanding the differences," she emphasised.