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So far, my columns have focused on advice for Generation Y, with advice for parents and educational organisations thrown in. Today, I’d like to focus on employers. As I said before, recruiting Gen Y isn’t the problem. Organisations speak their language; they attract these young adults. The issue lies in retaining them.
After careful investigation of both sides of the story, I have concluded that Gen Y isn’t the lazy, careless generation without a work ethic, as some employers perceive. Rather, there is a gap between the way Gen Y-ers want to be motivated, engaged and managed, and the way they actually are.
So, you’re an employer, you’ve recruited a bunch of new graduates, but two years later they’ve all left. What went wrong? Perhaps you claimed to value personal development, but you cancelled their first training meeting because a non-flexible deadline “suddenly” appeared. Maybe you declared individual potential important and that people can climb the ladder quickly if they’re good, but in reality, there is not even a talent management system in place, and you have no idea who your high potentials are. You may have assured them that there is transparent communication and that the door is always open, but what really happens is that you are too busy to properly inform your team of new assignments, and when someone tries the open door there is no one there. Maybe you claimed to be a firm with many international secondment opportunities, which in fact don’t exist. My only advice: walk the talk, or adjust your recruitment language.
What motivates Gen Y? If you ask them, things like “challenging, interesting work” and “fulfilment” pop up. They want a chance to learn from their colleagues and work with great people, to work in an environment without barriers and with transparent communication, to be trusted with some measure of responsibility, and to work at something that means something to them, which can also benefit others. What they don’t often mention, as it’s a given, is the opportunity to continue to learn. The way organisations incorporate these aspects into their organisational model is a whole different story, but from experience, I’ve seen that it’s certainly not impossible.
How does Gen Y want to be managed? Examine larger organisations and you will always find at least oneboss who can handle Gen Y with ease and still be popular. If you observe the two parties, there is already an unspoken understanding of what they expect from each other; they both know what must be said to produce optimal performance. It seems that those bosses feel they can trust Gen Y-ers, and therefore, they allocate them more responsibility. It’s not a coincidence that most of these bosses also have Gen Y kids.
One complaint I often hear from employers is that Gen Y-ers aren’t ready to become managers themselves because they don’t display leadership-type behaviour. Organisations are absolutely right here. Unless Gen Y is currently developing a new leadership style, which could be the case, they are not yet ready for the traditional style of leadership.
The reason for this is that we haven’t had as many opportunities as previous generations did to practice our leadership skills in a pre-work environment. These days, our families only consist of 2-3 children on average, compared to families who had 7-8 children in previous generations. So when we were growing up, we didn’t have as much responsibility for our younger siblings as past generations had. It’s the same at school: we did lots of group work (the system is set up in this way), learned to work together and delivered a result, everyone being equal. It’s not surprising then that in the work environment, Gen Y is very skilled at working as a team but not quite at leading one.
I’m not suggesting that organisations should change their whole organisational model and culture for the sake of Gen Y. Still, this generation will only take up a larger percentage of the workforce in the years to come. So perhaps it’s time to make some changes for the future?