Part of the growing diversity in organizations is the difference in the employees’ ages, which translates to differences in work preferences and attitudes, in turn leading to some conflict. However, organizations realize that there’s really more benefit than harm to having a workforce that’s composed of employees from various generations and so they strive to find ways to effectively manage each group.
With Generation Y being the youngest and the most recent to join the workforce, organizations must try to find ways to make the workplace more conducive for this generation as they will likely be the ones to lead organizations into the future. Statistics show that Generation Y comprises 30% of the current population, and although they comprise only 15% of the current US workforce, this percentage is expected to increase in the next twenty years and be at par in numbers with “the baby boomers in their prime” (Smith, 2012).
As such, this paper begins by first presenting a brief discussion and comparison of the various generations and then provides a more in-depth discussion of Generation Y in terms of their characteristics, motivations, and expectations and preferences.
The four generations that comprise the workforce are the Traditionalists, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, n.d.).
The Traditionalists were born between 1925 and 1945 (United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, n.d.). They were raised in an economically and politically tumultuous time, especially with the onset of World War II. As such, employees from this generation tend to be cautious, financially conservative, and hard working. They believe that organizational loyalty is important and that career advancement is based on seniority. They dislike risk and change and have great respect for hard work and authority. They like to set and conform to rules. As such, they tend to have a command and control style of leadership.
On the other hand, the Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 (United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, n.d.) They are known as the egocentric generation as they were raised in a healthy and abundant economy after the war. For people from this generation, their work defines them and it also serves as a basis of their evaluation of others. Their lives revolve around work. As such, they don’t really aspire for balance. They follow strict work hours from 8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon.
Born between 1965 and 1980 (United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, n.d.), people from Generation X were accustomed to “to do lists.” Many of them were raised in blended families and they also witnessed the great sacrifice that their parents made for their jobs, which led them to become independent, resilient, and highly adaptable. Unlike the Baby boomers who live to work, people from Generation X claim that they work to live. They also tend to have a cynical and distrusting view of the world.
Finally, people from Generation Y were born between 1981 and 2000 (United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, n.d.). They are considered the next big generation in that their numbers are expected to lead to significant changes within organizations. People from this generation (millenials) were raised in an environment where empowerment was encouraged and where their families provided them with security and safety. They were also encouraged to question authority and to make their own decisions. In addition, they were raised in a consumer economy, which means that they expect to have a say in the terms and conditions of their jobs. They expect to be treated as customers where their employers accommodate their expectations. It’s not that they feel they should get more but that their employer should give more to the employees. Because they were raised to be empowered, they are bold in expressing their opinions. Moreover, because they were raised with the Internet and computers as essential parts of their lives, they have global-minded, multiprocessing, and networking skills that people from the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generation don’t have. Having been raised in a world that is characterized by constant change, they are comfortable in environments that undergo rapid changes (Tulgan, 2009). Uncertainty is a natural part of their world and globalization and technological changes don’t intimidate them; rather, these changes empower them, which make them valuable to organizations. In addition, they believe that anything is possible and they are driven to become entrepreneurs (Fields, Wilder, Bunch and Newbold, 2007).
Moreover, with the prevalence of interactive media such as multi-player games, blogs, text messaging, and instant messaging, employees from both Generation X and Generation Y have developed new styles and skills for collaborating, which make rigid work hours unappealing for them. Still, other characteristics possessed by the members of Generation Y include confidence, sociability, morality, street smarts, diversity, collective action, a heroic spirit, tenacity, technological savvy, and the ability to multitask (United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, n.d.) They also need flexibility and lack the skills for dealing with difficult people. They are also known as the most education-minded generation and are making way for a more tolerant and open society (Baldonado, 2008). They are optimistic, are inclined towards volunteerism, and tend to be more idealistic than Generation X, although they seem to be more realistic than the baby boomers. According to a study conducted by Na’Desh (2008), energy and creativity were identified as the positive characteristics of this generation while selfishness and impatience were identified as their negative characteristics.
With regards to the workplace attire, members of Generation Y prefer to wear whatever makes them comfortable (United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, n.d.). They can also work effectively either in the office or at home and they prefer a flexible schedule. They are motivated by the ability to maintain a personal life and need constant feedback from their mentors. Personal relationships make them want to stay in their jobs and they prefer to communicate with clients through email, instant messaging, and text messaging, which they use 24/7. They also use the web for research and networking purposes. They prefer to create databases and their own documents. Their career goal is to build a number of parallel careers and to simultaneously have several jobs.
According to Stafford and Griffis (2008), members of Generation Y come from diverse backgrounds and do not have the same characteristics. However, Stafford and Griffis (2008)
assert that influencers play an important role in the decisions millenials make and that millenials are strongly inclined towards social dependencies, that is, they are still strongly influenced by their parents.
Challenges and Motivations of Generation Y Employees
In a study conducted by Barford and Hester (2011) where they determined the levels of workplace motivation and happiness between Generation Y employees and Generation X and Baby Boomer employees in the federal government, it was found that among the motivational factors of responsibilities, compensation, work environment, advancement potential, and free time, Generation Y employees ranked responsibilities the lowest, which could probably be either because the respondents were not happy with their responsibilities or because they were not being assigned too many responsibilities yet. On the other hand, the Generation Y employees ranked compensation as the highest motivational factor and they also placed a higher level of importance on free time and advancement potential compared to the Generation X and the Baby Boomer employees (Barford and Hester, 2011). The study also showed that the Generation Y employees proactively planned their professional development and expected to achieve it ( Barford and Hester, 2011). In addition, it was found that members of this generation aspired to achieve balance in their lives (Barford and Hest, 2011).
Moreover, they seek individual responsibility, the freedom to make decisions, team-based work, collaborative decision making, work that is enjoyable and personally stimulating, and work that is worthwhile to the society (Shandler, 2010). As well, a study conducted by Hays Specialist Recruitment Pty. Ltd. (n.d.) showed that benefits are important to millenials where 42% of the respondents claimed that they would not accept a job that did not come with perks and 37% claimed that they wouldn’t accept a job that did not offer parking. In addition, Barford and Hester 2011) asserted that millenials valued employer-paid training and tuition as they have the belief that higher levels of education will enable them to receive higher salaries.
Recruitment and Retention of Generation Y Employees
With the Internet savvy of millennials, they expect companies to have an online presence, that is, to have a company website where they can get more information about the company and to allow for job applications to be sent online (Borngraber-Berthelsen, 2008). They also expect to get a timely response with regards to their application, especially when they have many ongoing applications or have received many offers. According to a High Fliers survey, 54% of the students surveyed expected the entire application process to be completed in six to eight weeks (Borngraber-Berthelsen, 2008). For millenials, their decision to work for a company depends on the company’s brand or reputation and whether they believe in what the company stands for (Hays Specialist Recruitment Pty. Ltd., n.d.). They also value honesty and respect.
With regards to the retention of Generation Y employees, employers should note that more than monetary compensation, millenials value productive collaborations with peers, growth opportunities, the recognition of work, and the idea of belonging to something (Smith, 2012). They are not afraid of change and will continuously seek environments that allow them to get involved in these activities. This is affirmed by Dorsey (2009) who claims that Generation Y is the first generation that doesn’t expect to work for the same company for forty years. However, he also asserts that millenials can be intensely loyal and even agree to take a pay cut for an employer they believe in (Dorsey, 2009).
Millenials expect their managers to support them (Morgan, n.d.). They need constant development and feedback, that is, they constantly need reinforcement, praise, and opportunities to develop their skills and interests. They need managers who will recognize and reward their good performance and who will provide them with goals, direction, and coaching. Research shows that management behavior is one of the main factors that will ensure the retention of millenials in the workplace (Morgan, n.d.). This is affirmed by a study of exit interviews conducted by Garrison Wynn (n.d.) of Wynn Solutions where they found that millenials craved for attention from their managers and that they’d rather quit when they feel that they are not being valued by the company. As Montana and Charnov (2008) suggested, managers should be able to adjust their management style and approach when dealing with the various generations of employees in their workforce, especially with the Generation Y.
Millenials are also not known for being loyal to the companies they work for (Borngraber-Berthelsen, 2008), that is, they stay in a company only for as long as they think that they’re still benefitting from their jobs. They do not equate impressive job titles and having a corner office to success. As such, they readily move to another company once they receive a better offer. Millenials are career-focused and are risk-takers when it comes to their careers, but they view their careers as the freedom to achieve a meaningful and fulfilled profession rather than as a financial investment in their future (Hays Specialist Recruitment Pty Ltd., n.d.).
This paper discussed the characteristics of Generation Y employees who are the latest to join the workforce. Although they are inexperienced in many ways and work differently from other generations, they possess skills and characteristics that will be of great benefit to companies that want to ensure their continued success in the future.
Because of the great contribution that millenials can potentially make within organizations and because of their growing numbers, managers must be able to manage this group so that they can be retained and so that companies will be able to exploit their skills. It was discussed in this paper that, although millenials do not place much importance on company loyalty, they do tend to stay loyal if they believe in what the company stands for and as long as they’re able to find meaning in what they do, as well as receive the recognition and reward that they feel they deserve.
It is apparent that Generation Y employees are very different from members of the other generations. However, if company managers are able to figure out what makes millenials tick then they’ll be sure to be carried into the future by these future leaders.
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