Engaging Gen Y – What makes them tick at the workplace?

Managers today are faced with managing an increasingly diverse workforce that represents, among other things, different generations where younger and older generations mingle, with young CEOs and VPs often managing older subordinates. Managing the younger generation, called Gen Y, can often be challenging. It is important to engaging this group effectively in order to sustain a business in a dynamic environment pummeled by recession, high turnovers and a rapidly changing nature of competition.
Phrases such as “These kids don’t have any work ethic,” or “Those old-timers are stubborn and set in their ways” have likely been heard more than once at the workplace. They’re typically followed by a groan and frustrated eye rolling because the people in question – the managers/co-workers/supervisors – represent another generation. One that is presumably not as evolved as the older generation.

Browse the business section of an online or local bookstore to understand the magnitude of this issue. Popular titles include Retiring the Generation Gap; Generations at Work; When Generations Collide; From Boomers to Bloggers; and Generations, Inc. Working with multiple generations is causing employees some pain, which can translate into lower morale, higher turnover and lost productivity.

Considerable time has been spent identifying the differences and potential gaps between generations. There are some perceptions that each generation has differing, sometimes competing, values. Do these generation gaps really exist? The ‘Gen Y’ or the ‘millennials’ seemed to have captured the imagination of the entire management world today. Not surprising, given the fact that in the next 5-10 years Gen Y will probably form a significant chunk of the total workforce. Who are the millennials? Are they actually different or are the only perceived to be different? If they are, how and why are they different and how do you engage this generation better to nurture and develop them into future leaders?
Defining the millennials/Gen Y:
There are various definitions available for the millennials. One source defines it as the generation that was born after 1984. Based on the shift in cultural trends in organizations, it would be fair to assume that the workforce that joined the workforce after 2008 can be classified as millennials or the Gen Y.
Research Facts about Millennials
• Social Media -An international survey* highlights that 85% of this generation belong to a social networking site. In India the number is a staggering 95%.

• Flexible Working Hours – While it was generally assumed that this generation might value flexible working hours, the survey indicates otherwise. Majority of the participants indicated preference for regular working hours with minimum flexibility. Perhaps the millennials do not feel that total flexibility is a realistic possibility, even though it is something they might desire.

• Job Mobility -This generation was also expected to change jobs more often. However contrary to the perceptions, 80% of the participants said that they would not work for more than five companies in their lifetime and 12% said not more than ten organizations. While one can assume that this generation seems to be more job stable, it could also be a case of a shortened career span. A lot of experts believe that this generation may not work for more than 20-25 years overall.

• Benefits & Rewards -This generation seemed to value development opportunities more than cash benefits. While overall the top three preferred benefits were Training & Development, Cash Benefits & Flexible Working Hours, the Asian population seemed to value Training & Development, Financial Benefits (Housing, car lease, etc.) and Cash Benefits, in that order.

• Relative Recognition – In another survey (Anon, 2011) conducted across organizations, employees were asked two questions:
o Would they be happier with a flat 15% hike?
o Or would they happier with a 10% hike knowing that their peers received only 8%?
While employees in the mid to late 30s almost unanimously selected the first option, half the employees in the mid to late 20s chose the second.

The Value System – Differences.
Pearson TalentLens gathered data and analysed results of a value-based personality assessment, SOSIE. SOSIE is a unique work place assessment that goes beyond personality to measure values and interpersonal values of an individual. Pearson TalentLens chose to analyse data available for an organization in the IT/ITeS sector that used SOSIE as a tool to promote employees across levels. Choosing data from one organization ensures that the data is comparable as culture, structure and policies remain constant.
A value-based personality assessment like SOSIE helps us understand the difference in the value system between generations. Pearson TalentLens selected 200 data points from Gen Y and generations above (baby boomers and Gen X), respectively. The results of the analysis are presented below.

Recognition –Individuals with high scores on recognition are likely to place importance on the praise and admiration of others. They may value being noticed and having esteem and status offered to them by others.

Materialism – Individuals with high scores on materialism are likely to place a high value on material possessions and may prefer doing things that are practical, immediately useful, and economically advantageous.

Variety – Individuals with high scores on variety are likely to value the opportunity for new experiences and to be confronted with new, different, and even risky situations. They are likely to be motivated by work that is not going to become routine and predictable.

Summary – Engaging Gen Y
It is clear from the facts presented in the previous section that the Generation Y differs from the generations before them in a few aspects.
1. Relative Recognition – This is a generation that has thrived on competition and peer pressure, growing up. Gen Ys were raised in a bubble of constant praise and recognition from their families, peers, teachers etc and so this kind of constant reinforcement and recognition is something they expect at the workplace as well.
2. Variety – Gen Ys, more than any previous college graduates, are graduating college with a dynamic mix of academic and short work experiences that have them positioned to contribute at the workplace from day one. They are not interested in “grunt” jobs, or jobs in which they have to “pay their dues” – they seek challenging work right from the beginning of their careers in any organization.
3. Materialism – This is also a generation that has grown up around terrorist attacks, wars, shorter economic cycles of growth and slowdown and uncertain macroeconomic conditions. A lot of psychologists believe these experiences have shaped this generation’s mindset towards having a short term career perspective. This is a generation that demands instant gratification.

Final Thoughts
Just as the nature of work changes with time, so too must the way we perform the work — and Generation Y workers are some of the most independent-minded and tech-savvy workers employers have seen. Organizations need to change the way they do business and the way they manage, recognize, and reward employees (including the mix of benefits and perks offered). This is essential not only to their success in recruiting and retaining Generation Y workers, but to the organization’s future success as well.

Shashir Shetty, Regional Manager - South at Silicon India HR Summit

Shashir Shetty, Regional Manager - South at Silicon India HR Summit

Shashir Shetty, Regional Manager – South, Pearson TalentLens (excerpts from a talk at Silicon India Summit, Hyderabad
* www.pwc.com/gx/en/managing-tomorrows-people/future-of-work/key-findings.jhtml

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