“What words come to mind when I say Gen Y?” Aaron Kesher asked the many attendees at 2011’s Society for Human Resources Management conference who were packed into the room. “Entitled!” shouted one person. “Job hoppers,” chimed in another. Soon, many in the room (many of them non-Gen Yers, with some Gen Y members sprinkled in) were shouting things like “smart,” “résumé builders,” “technically savvy,” “stereotype,” “comfortable with change,” and “creative.”
Obviously, we all have specific words and phrases and ideas that match how we perceive Gen Y to think and behave in the workplace. Gen Y, made up of those born between 1980 and 2000, have their own notions of themselves, too. In Aaron Kesher’s, “Why Y? Plugging Into a Generational Powerhouse” session, Kesher encouraged all of us in the room to rethink our notions of what we think Gen Y is all about, to consider the strengths they bring to today’s dynamic workplace and to use this knowledge and understanding to more successfully recruit and retain Gen Y workers.
“Do not doubt that this generation will change the face of the American workplace as their parents did,” Kesher said. “In the next five to 10 years, the number of Gen Yers in the workforce will increase dramatically.”
As the number of Gen Y workers is only getting larger, it’s about time we as a collective workplace learn more about Gen Y so that we can understand them, appreciate their unique strengths, and more successfully integrate them with other generations in the workplace.
What is work from a Gen Y Perspective?
- Work ethic: Job loyalty, for a long time, was shown by how long you stuck around and paid your dues — and older generations still think in line with this. Gen Y, on the other hand, says, “I show you love by how hard I work, not how long I stick around.”
- Tech savvy: It’s not so much that Gen Yers are tech savvy, Kesher pointed out — they’re tech dependent. They’re the generation that’s come of age with the explosion of technology, so it’s natural that they would be comfortable with it.
- Communication and teamwork: Gen Y is not necessarily entitled; they just feel comfortable asking for what they want. When it comes to communication, you can often count on Gen Yers to spread out the message fast and often. We need to realize, Kesher said, that throughout Gen Y’s public education, the majority of the work was done in groups, and that their role wasn’t usually as the leader of a group — instead, many were “equal” team members. Therefore, many Gen Y members function fairly well as a group and as “team players,” but some struggle in standing out as individual, assertive leaders.
- Money: Employers, listen up: Gen Y is talking to each other about the money they are (or aren’t) making at your organization. They are comparing how competitive your salary is with your competitors — and they’re not afraid to share their findings. One audience member mentioned recently hearing Gen Yers discussing openly the job offers and bonuses they were getting — and she was shocked. After all, discussing how much money you make is one of the last great American taboos — yet Gen Y seems more comfortable with discussing this sort of information.
- Recognition: Gen Y is a generation of the “there are no losers — everyone’s a winner” mentality. “But they didn’t make that up (boomer parents),” Kesher pointed out, to a round of laughter. Gen Yers don’t care how it gets done –they just want to get it done. And they want to be told they did a good job once they do it; recognition is very important.
- Diversity: “Why do only white people work here?” might be something a Gen Y worker thinks while viewing a company site or sitting in the lobby while waiting to be interviewed and noticing the lack of diverse employees. Gen Y doesn’t embrace diversity — they expect it — and if your company says you believe in diversity, but then a Gen Y worker shows up and all workers look the same — they will think you’re not living up to your diversity message. This generation has grown up with a greater awareness of and comfort with diversity of all kinds. From home lives, to school experiences, to messages absorbed from pop culture, they often don’t see what all the fuss is. This can manifest as difficulty in understanding why others struggle with issues around differences. A question of whether gay marriage should be legalized, for example, is a non-issue for many Gen Y individuals — and this shift ties into a larger cultural shift in general.
- Work versus life: “I love my job, but I love my life more” — that’s something you may hear a lot of Gen Yers say. One of the critical issues that will need to be ironed out at work in the future, Kesher said, will revolve around workplace flexibility. We’re increasingly seeing workplace flexibility issues evolving in the workplace, and Gen Y workers in particular (though they’re not alone) want to know how they can maintain their relationship with work while still having the flexibility to live the life they envision. As mentioned above, Gen Y has no problem with work or with the idea of working hard — it’s just that their job will never be the whole of their identity. They were raised with the imperative to “follow your dreams!”, and their job and life may intersect in new ways than we’ve seen in past generations. “Gen Y,” Kesher stressed, “doesn’t want a job — they want a life that hopefully includes a job.”
- Being green: This is the generation that’s leading the green movement — so give them the power to build, make changes, and become leaders in your organization’s (existing or non-existing) green movement.
Why worry about Gen Y?
Ensuring that the different generations working together under one roof actually work well together is a big concern for many employers. After all, if knowledge isn’t able to be sufficiently shared from generation to generation, older generations will eventually retire — taking with them decades of experience. In addition, workers who work well together are likely to be happier, more productive and better brand ambassadors for companies.
By Amy Chulik