I love Gen_Y_“You want to think about how to prepare the next generation to move into leadership and they’re already thinking about buying the company.”*

Arvind had just joined the company fresh out of India’s best B-school. The CEO himself was on the panel that selected Arvindt to join his company’s young leaders program. Quick introductions to the senior management over, Arvind is assigned to be the EA of the 55 year old President of Global Operations, a 20 year veteran.  A fortnight later, the senior man is in on the phone with the HR head. The “kid” is overconfident, he says. Arvind is pushy and impatient and worst of all, he wants to leave at 6pm every day. The president want’s the HR head to intervene and have a frank talk or he wants the “brat” gone by the end of the month.

HR professionals today have a unique challenge. The typical workforce for large and medium organizations now has the ‘Independence Babies (Boomers)’ retiring, Gen-X at the helm of affairs or in senior positions, and Gen-Y entering the workforce eager to take charge. To make matters more interesting, the behavioural gap between those in charge and the incoming workforce couldn’t be starker. Organizations can no longer hope to actively engage their workforce by having an undifferentiated ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach towards employee engagement.

Generation Y, Generation WHY?, Generation Next, Nexers, Millenniums, Digital Generation, Echo Boomers, Boomlets, i-Generation, Generation-Me: Call them what you want – fact is, there is a wave of change sweeping workplaces across the globe and those in charge of managing and engaging the workforce are being forced to take notice. A bit like a flash-dance mob invading a stately ball dance, Gen-Y has the energy and brashness required to shock ‘old-timers’. Before we get down to considering how to engage them, lets take a step back and look beyond the cliche’s to get a sense of what makes Gen-Y tick.

Gen-Y: the “Hero generation”

“They know the way things go down and are no longer naïve about the workings of the world and the intentions of businesses and other organizations.” Peter Sheahan from “Generation Y: Thriving and Surviving with Generation Y at Work.”

Experts don’t really agree on the birth years for Gen-Y (but then again experts are never able to agree on anything) – ranges used in studies and research cover the years from 1978 to 1995, but most seem to agree that the early 1980’s to mid 1990’s is the range to be taken into consideration.

Timelines of the years of births of Boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Y and beyond
Timelines of the years of births of Boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Y and beyond

If one were to pick out one characteristic that differentiates Gen-Y from all the preceding ones then it would have be the comfort with technology. This generation is always ‘connected’: 24x7x365. They network using technology. They are inherently collaborative and are comfortable in large social networks. This implies that they are more comfortable in team settings rather than in those that require individual contribution, in stark contrast to Gen-X. Born and brought up in times that have been relatively-free of the threat of large scale war and conflicts, Gen-Y is more optimistic and hopeful of the future. They are also largely lifestyle-centered owing to the relative abundance in their formative years.

An interesting contrast with the preceding generations is that Gen-Y has also seen more white-collar crime.  In a highly connected world they have grow up in, where information is just a click away scams and scandals in the world of business took on a proportion that neither the Boomers nor Gen-X saw. Enron, WorldCom and the grand financial collapse of 2008-09 has made them less tolerant of bureaucracy and corruption in the workplace. A trait commonly observed is the pervasive need to ‘be a hero’. While they are success driven and independent, they also have a need to do more for the community than their elder siblings in Gen-X or parents in the Boomers era did.

Millenials in the workplace:

Although they are better educated, more techno-savvy, and quicker to adapt than those who have come before them, they refuse to blindly conform to  traditional standards and time-honored institutions. Instead, they boldly ask, ‘Why?’”— Eric Chester from “Employing Generation Why?”

The millenials are now entering the workforce in full force. Estimates put the total numbers of this generation at 1.7 billion globally which put them at roughly 25% of the total population. It is widely expected that by 2020, India will have the highest percentage of people in the employable age at ~500 million. A quick look at the expected workforce composition of 2020 gives an idea of the issue that HR heads and CEO’s will face in engaging their employees.

Distribution movement of Boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Y in the workforce in the decade from 2010 to 2020
Distribution movement of Boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Y in the workforce in the decade from 2010 to 2020

Organizations today face the challenge of retaining and engaging their young and seemingly fickle workforce. Recognized as the ‘most entrepreneurial’ generation, Gen-Y has a vastly different attitude towards their careers. Adept at technology and working across geographical boundaries, there is no restraint on this group. Surveys and research have shown that the concept of ‘long term commitment’ is approximately 1 year for this group and only around 20% of them expect to be with the same employer for six years or longer. Having been exposed to years of corruption and scams in the world of business they inherently posses a low level of trust of senior management and are inherently skeptical, mistrustful and apathetic towards traditional hierarchies and authority. (ref: Hastings, 2008; Martin and Tulgan, 2002, Loughlin and Barling, 2001).

Gen-Y are coming of age with a far superior education than the previous generations, though the percentage is substantially lower. They are comfortable in dealing with large volumes of data available to them by being constantly connected. And while they bring energy and motivation to the workplace they also represent a unique challenge.

In the subsequent parts of this post, I will explore the dynamics of Gen-Y in the workplace and the consequent engagement strategies that flow from it. Stay tuned.

5 thoughts on “Engaging Gen-Y: The ‘Millennial’ Challenge (Part 1 – the Hero Generation)

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