How to turn on Generation Y

Jan 27 2009 by Cindy Wahler Print This Article

Employers often lament that Millennials (the generation born in the 1980s) don't work hard, lack commitment, are devoid of loyalty, are pampered, indulged and require excessive praise.

They're mistaken. The disconnect arises because substantially different variables are at play in both attracting and retaining our Millennials Ė and so employers need to change their mindsets.

Corporations that rigidly adhere to "old" ways of attracting and retaining talent will experience not only a shortage but will quickly lose the ability to attract the best and brightest minds.

First let's start off with the old boss / subordinate dynamic. True enough, respect, accountability, responsiveness and integrity all remain key levers. The critical difference is that these values are not only expectations of those in positions of power and authority. Generation Ys have a very different mind set regarding employee engagement, retention and career pathing.

A collaborative relationship whereby Millennials can, in some respects, be mentors to those in senior positions sounds like a provocative concept. Shouldn't our youth respect our elders? Historically this definition of respect translated into a student / teacher relationship.

Instead, senior leadership must adopt a mind set whereby the learning curve is viewed as reciprocal, particularly around the expertise and knowledge Generation Ys can bring to the platform.

Generation Y is the only generation in our workforce who grew up with technology. Utilizing multiple streams of communication to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously within an efficient and economically sufficient space of time is commonplace. Shared networks have changed the definition of team work.

Formal and informal collaborative networks exist globally, not only within a single organization but across organizations and even competitors. This cross fertilization amongst peers creates a broader and richer network and helps generate creative ideas and solutions.

Generation Ys seek out understanding, expertise and problem resolution through multiple sources, many of them external to their employer. This means that work can in fact be accomplished not only in different time zones but in flexible time zones.

Employers need to understand that Millennials will work hard and will produce timely deliverables. The difference is that how and where they work no longer fits the old cubicle mentality of being at one's desk from morning till night. Generation Ys expect employers to "get" this work style and not to confuse this way of working with a lack of work ethic.

In order to attract Millennials, an organizations must behave with integrity. Millennials demand to be communicated to in a direct, honest and transparent way. Employers need to explain how Generation Y's efforts are connected to the overall business plan. If you "spin" and present inauthentic responses, employees will quickly abandon ship.

Income, status, and financial incentives are no longer the best method to motivate Generation Y

Explaining the rationale with measurable outcomes is salient for today's workforce. Millennials need to understand how their specific efforts contribute to the company's strategic framework. Should they not grasp the business rationale or sense they are being "sold" ideas rather than being part of the process, they will immediately disengage. A collaborative relationship involves true partnering with employees. Employees can no longer be told what to do, rather a dialogue that solicits and generates input builds trust and commitment.

Millennials view work as one of multiple priorities, not their singular priority. This means that income, status, and financial incentives are no longer the best method to motivate the Generation Y workforce. Millennials are willing to make trade-offs to live their values. They are "immediate driven" and quite keen to live their lives right now, rather than adhering to the old Protestant work ethic that suggests you can only reap the rewards of life after you have worked hard and basically sold your soul to your employer. Key selling points for employees must be the availability of personalized benefits in the form of flexible hours and personalized career paths.

It follows on from this that both the organizational culture and managers need to have strong coaching and feedback skills. Millennials will expect to see a career development path with specific benchmarks when assessing their longer term future with an employer. They also demand ongoing performance feedback rather than just quarterly or at annual performance reviews.

If they don't feel they are getting the support and direction they need, Millennials will quickly become disinterested. And so relationships with managers and the ability to cultivate an internal network whereby managers will develop and champion their employee population become the single most important offering that management must fulfill.

In essence, then, employers must present work as a continuum with clear expectations so that Millennials know what the next steps are and what they can do to achieve the necessary milestones which builds towards increasing challenge. They must promote a culture that embodies the values of truth and integrity. Work assignments must have well defined outcome measures. The "why" and "how" of projects must be directly linked to the companies' objectives and be clearly delineated. Flexibility, continual reinforcement and feedback specific to a well defined career path are key retention drivers.

Above all, employers, many of whom are the parents of our Millennials, need to take ownership for the workforce they have helped to create and accept and recognize Generation Y's terms for engagement, even if these result in a very different recruitment, talent planning and succession model.

About The Author

Cindy Wahler
Cindy Wahler

A Psychologist and expert in human behaviour, Dr. Cindy Wahler has extensive and broad based experience in positioning organizations for success, within both the private and public sectors.

Older Comments

Two words: high maintenance Don't get me wrong, I generally love the millennials I interact with, but I don't think the business model needs to turn itself on its head in order to cater to these guys. They need to adapt to the work environments or they will fail. We have already enabled them all their lives, something needs to kick in so they can survive on their own. Yes, business could use a little revamping to be kinder to its employees, but to constantly have to push the ego is coddling these kids and they need to grow up. Not everything you do needs acknowledged. Sometimes a simple thanks will do. Not everything you do is outstanding, and often is only acceptable. No need to inflate egos over mediocrity.

Russ in Wy

This is a good article. The one thing I have a disagreement with is the mention of 'personalized career paths,' and the subtle implied message that it is up to the employer to provide feedback and coaching that does not rigidly follow a quarterly, semi-annual, annual review. It's fair to expect that the career path of an employee, whether Generation Y, Generation X or Baby Boom, is the responsibility of that employee. If that employee feels it necessary to have regular feedback, ad hoc or scheduled, that does not fall into the company policy for reviews, then it is the employee's responsibility to initiate the discussion or reviews. Employers should not be expected to hand-hold employees if the employee feels their needs are not being met. The employee is responsible for sharing these concerns with their leadership and establish a good working relationship.

Best regards, Walter (Generation X)