Attracting and retaining Gen Y

May 23, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Poor old (well, young) Gen Y comes in for a lot of slamming. I’ve done a fair bit of Gen Y bashing myself. But I’ve gained a new sense of them I think. I’ve been undertaking some secret surveillance work – I’ve been watching Big Brother. Quell horror! Yes, dear reader, I of all people (the one who moans about the vacuousness of reality TV). I have been glued to the TV screen. Now before you hit the Unscribe button and zoom off and subscribe to another blog or two, I’ll explain.

I’ve been doing some voluntary coaching of some Gen Y dudes as part of my coaching qualification. One 17 year old school boy and a girl in her early 20s. Initially, I thought they were both from some rock beyond Pluto. But as we developed a coaching relationship, I began to realise that there is some depth to this generation.

You hear the mantra: “oh they’re the same kids with the same kinds of issues as Baby Boomers faced when they were that age”. But you know I don’t think so. It’s a very different world from the one the BBs grew up in. So I think that makes them very different. They are keen (at least the ones I know) to make a decision about where to work and what to do in their life around whether or not an organisation’s values match theirs. They want to know how a company helps the environment and doesn’t get its hands dirty killing off species or mucking up the atmosphere. Gen Y have a lot of choices. They’re probably the first generation to grow up in abundance – no world wars, the fizzling out of Communism, the continuing effects of post-WWII prosperity and, of course, the wiring up of the planet via the Internet.

They are not interested in selling their soul to an organisation (or as one Gen Y person put it to me: becoming an organisational bitch). The dream of staying in a company for 40 years, getting the gold watch and trotting off into retirement is not theirs.

So there’s a heap of implications for organisations here – mainly how to attract and keep Gen Y? Gen Y were born between 1980-1994 (Gen Z takes over after that). Last statistic I looked at (from the ABS I think) – there were 4.2 million or so Gen Y in Australia. That’s a fair slab of the population around 20% or so.

They are highly educated so they are expecting the organisation they choose to work in to support them with further professional development. They don’t expect to be hanging around for years waiting for that promotion – they expect to be listened to and be a respected part of a team. From what the Gen Y types I’ve been coaching have told me, they don’t think BBs are fossils and would enjoy being in a reverse mentoring situation with an older person. The older employee could learn about say collaborative tools from the Gen Y employee. And the BB employee could tell the Gen Y employee about the ropes of the job, the golden tidbits of knowledge necessary for succession planning.

From a training perspective, sticking them in a room for traditional classroom style training sessions isn’t going to work. Not when they’re used to sharing stories and experiences via social networks. So an emphasis on informal, participative training will be necessary.

Gen Y are very, very social so organisations need to think about social clubs or opportunities to provide fun in the workplace. Fun? Yep. They like the opportunity to establish social relationships and don’t see why this can’t be achieved in the workplace. They think about travel, so an organisation needs to think about overseas secondments or giving them a year off to do their thing.

How does Big Brother come into this? Well, one of the students I was coaching told me to watch it to understand the “head space” of a Gen Y. Sure, I’ve found it a tad boring, especially that blonde girl who at the age of 20 has to go to bed hugging a pet unicorn called Princess Sparkles (actually, I suspect she’s a pretty clever strategist pulling in the sympathy vote). And sure they waffle on about “stuff” (actually not all that different from when I was growing up).

So my coaching and surveillance work secretly watching BB has given me a new appreciation of Gen Y. By the time they hit senior management roles, the Baby Boomers will be in the rocking chairs and Gen X will be looking a little tired and thinking of the rocking chair. So I think Gen Y will usher in a new era of organisational values. They will make decisions that respect the environment for example. They won’t drone on about work/life balance because for them life is not all about work. I think they will be a far more balanced generation in the workplace.

A recruiter friend told me that recently a Gen Y candidate turned down a fabulous role with benefits based on one factor: that the company in question, in their supply chain, got their hands dirty with coal. And they turned the job down instantly based on that factor.

Organisations are busy worrying about the impending Baby Boomer employee exodus. Yep, we need to worry about that but not at the expense of thinking about how to attract and retain Gen Y and thinking about the golden opportunities to get the two generations together.

And here’s an interesting article on Gen Y and how they’ll be taking over the internet from ReadWriteWeb.


Entry filed under: Coaching & mentoring, Gen Y, HR, Reflections.

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