Understanding the Gen Y workforce

If you haven’t yet dealt with a Gen Y-related issue in your workplace, then perhaps you already are Gen Y-friendly, you’re a Gen Yer yourself or maybe your hiring leans towards older individuals. Ultimately, few businesses today and tomorrow will escape Generation Y, as we head towards the global workforce being comprised of 75 per cent Gen Y employees by 2025. Here’s a snapshot to help in your understanding of this very influential and important generation.

Changing nature of workforce

Generation Y have entered the workforce when technology and globalisation have already started changing how the traditional workday looks, and they have seen how they can participate and innovate in today’s world. One of the greatest requirements for Gen Y is flexibility – companies who respond to this strategically and effectively are reaping rewards.

Take Google, who are famous for allowing employees 20 per cent of their paid time to work on personal creative projects. Another is Best Buy, who launched a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), which saw a 41 per cent increase in productivity and a 90 per cent reduction in turnover. The concept of ROWE is underpinned by throwing out the ‘old rules’ that traditionally governed a workplace: core hours, face time and meetings. It allows employees to work anywhere, anytime as long as they complete their projects on time.

Commitment issues

It’s often observed that Gen Y have one foot out the door. However, if you look at the increasing level of casual employment then you can see the precarious life of economic uncertainty and anxiety this can produce. Gen Y are asked to bear all the risk. It is no surprise then to see so many Gen Y unhappy at work.

If you put yourself in their shoes, you too might have a reaction to the impermanence of the workforce. Millennials in the workplace have seen the business world go through its cycle of boom and bust, increasing and downsizing to suit. The best thing you can do here is talk about the career path that you see for your Gen Y employee. Commitment is a two-way street.

It’s how we connect

In the summary of Cisco’s Connected World Technology report, they talk about smartphones being an appendage of Gen Yers – an indispensable part of their lives. “There are 206 bones in the human body, and the smartphone should be considered the 207th bone for Generation Y.” We aren’t going to change Gen Y’s fascination with text messaging and social media anytime soon, so why not harness their talents? Old-school marketing was run by a department. New-world marketing is a whole-of-business approach. Gen Y can show you a thing or two about building your business’s digital community.

Also, remember that banning private social media usage in the workplace is like prohibition. It will ultimately go underground, reduce morale and could backfire in that you become the focus of their online conversation! Instead, treat social media like any other employee performance issue. Build a framework around appropriate usage and involve your employees in designing the boundaries.

The nation’s foremost social researcher and expert on generations, McCrindle Research, also offers numerous tips for employers, such as:

  • Consider reverse mentoring, rather than traditional mode of mentoring, whereby the knowledge flows both ways.
  • Gen Y have grown up in the world of incentives with the proliferation of rewards cards and programs, so talk to them about what will motivate them at work.
  • Gen Y have a strong interest in social justice and are choosing to work for companies that share their values, so allow them to help you build your triple bottom line.

Ultimately, over the coming years, Generation Y won’t be fitting into our world – we will be fitting into their world. They will shape and mould it, and perhaps for the betterment of all. Rather than seeing them as a problem, walk a mile in their shoes and your business will soon reap the benefits.

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