Motivating generation Y

Nov 10 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Up to half of young employees recruited via graduate recruitment ‘Milk rounds’ leave UK firms within only two years according to a new study, highlighting a damaging communications gap between young workers and their managers.

This ‘milk churn’ effect has been revealed in a report undertaken by Siemens in conjunction with The Work Foundation that highlights how employers need to understand the implications for employment policies of the expectations of the “generation Y” of young workers born since 1980.

Key to this understanding is the realisation that today’s 18-24 year-olds are a highly pragmatic generation of workers. Endless rounds of corporate restructuring and the resultant redundancies mean that they do not view security as being guaranteed the current job. Instead young workers want to acquire skills and experience that will make them attractive to the market. This results in individuals wanting to exit an organisation and eventually doing so.

“There are two sides divided by a common language”, explained Will Hutton, Chief Executive, The Work Foundation. “Falling numbers mean that companies are going to have to compete harder and harder to attract and retain young talent. This is not about money, but about understanding their views and needs and working hard to establish a common language.

“Honesty underpins all of this, which is why it is so sad to see so many young workers claiming that their jobs had been significantly oversold.”

Young workers and managers in four benchmark UK firms were interviewed as part of the research. And although it became clear that businesses in the UK recognise the dynamism of young workers, it was also apparent that a communications gap existed between expectations and reality.

While managers were clear that they were stretching the best performers, young workers themselves were less convinced that this was actually what happened. Development plans, apparently mutually agreed, do not seem to fulfil many of the young workers’ promises.

In short, the Generation Y worker joins a high profile company thinking ‘I’m building up my skills and my network and looking for the next opportunity’. Young workers are distinguished by their rejection of the 'civil service' attitude and their expectation of a more meritocratic approach that values talent.

The report reveals what it terms a ‘Terrible Paradox’, the high risk strategy whereby companies need to invest in the development and training of employees, ultimately making them highly attractive candidates for other employers to poach. The unfortunate reality is that by making younger workers more attractive to the market, the employer is creating a sense of security and so is rewarded with loyalty.

At best, older workers recognise that younger workers bring a challenge to the status quo, are refreshing acting as 'catalysts for change', forward thinking and a manifestation of the faith the company has in its long-term viability. There were also other positive benefits in that managing young workers can be a useful learning experience for potential managers.

However, the question of 'discipline' divides the older workers. Some feel that younger workers are not as disciplined or committed as older workers with a rather blasé attitude. In addition older workers sometimes perceive the younger generation as pushy because, according to young workers, they 'don't recognise times have changed'.

There are an increasing number of management terms to describe best practice in attracting, progressing and keeping young talent. But according to the report, the two key attributes are honesty and understanding.

"Any successful relationship needs a solid foundation and ongoing reassessment," the report states. "The only way to give that talent what it craves is to understand what that is in the first place. All of this requires good communication."