Generation Y at Work
April 18, 2008
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As of July 2005, there were nearly 78.2 million “baby boomers” – a population represented by people born between 1946 and 1964 – living in the United States, many of whom have now retired or are nearing retirement. With the swell of retirements, employers have been preparing for the next wave of workers to replace them. Enter, Generation Y.

What do we know about Generation Y? How do employers motivate and retain Generation Y? As a baby boomer, I know a bit about the Echo Boomers as I have coached a few. I have also raised two of them, and now they are all grown up and ready for work. Gen Y is generally defined as Americans born from 1977-2002. The millenials or internet generation is challenging businesses to find a different approach to attract and keep the Gen Y at work.

Gen Y’s may wear flip-flops to work and listen to their iPods at their desk. (Personally speaking, I have had a houseful of these items.) A flexible workplace would be a plus to allow work-life balance. They do not like ambiguity, but embrace authenticity. They are serious about their career progression and would like support to achieve it.

The first wave of Generation Y is just embarking on their careers. Some strategies that employers are using to manage them include:

1. Offer a stimulating, motivating and flexible work environment that allows multitasking. Most of this generation grew up with TV and Nintendo. They are easily bored. The rest of the office will probably enjoy the change as well and morale and production can get a boost. In a cover story from Business Week, Sept 24, 2007, Dan Black of Ernst & Young said, “If you don’t make an effort to provide an environment in this generation can do their best, they’re going to find one where they can.”

2. Be honest, clear and concise. They like clarity and straight talk. Tell them what you expect, offer direction and tell them “why” you are asking them to do something. This gives them more of an understanding of workplace goals and draws them into the organization.

3. Communication is good, but remember, with brevity. They like to move on it and long, drawn out, wordy speeches and memos will not get the results you want. Remember, communication involves listening.

4. Give them personalized feedback. They do not want to be ignored. Tell them how they are doing and offer a routine dialogue on their work performance and career progress. Do not leave them in limbo.

5. Tell them you value their contribution. Offer encouragement and feedback. Remember, we were 22 years old once upon a time and launched our career with more seasoned employees under a scrutinizing eye.

6. Offer mentorships, be a mentor. This opportunity was not talked about at work in the past and most mentorships occurred as a hit or miss or informally. Today, mentoring can be a growing opportunity for both parties and help with retention of newer employees.

Many Generation Y workers will strive for work/life balance. It’s a lofty goal but something that many of their parents did not have as they worked long hours, worked weekends, traveled extensively for work, returned to college or worked multiple jobs. They were the kids at home or at daycare. This generation wants to work smarter to avoid the stress of overextending themselves when work and home become a blur.

Ask yourself, what can we learn from Generation Y? They are the future pool of workers. Learning how to motivate, train and retain them will be can evolving process as we see what works. Employers need to understand, listen and find what the millenials value in life and work.

© Written by Barbara Wulf, Beckon Call - February 2007