Ready or Not, Here They Come!

June 2015 - By Dr. Gustavo Grodnitzky - FocusED 2015 | Issue 2 - As Generation Y enters the workforce, it has quickly become obvious that its work style is different from any previous era. Many business leaders still don’t understand the major clash occurring between the generations in the workplace.

The Numbers

Today, for the first time in human history, there are four generations jostling for elbowroom in the workplace. According to the US Census Bureau (2010), there are 35 million Traditionalists — the most senior generation—largely retired now and leaving the workforce in droves. There are 84 million Baby Boomers—the largest group—a large percentage of who began retiring in 2011. This exodus created an employment gap unlike anything business and industry has experienced before. Then there are 68 million Gen Xers, who are currently moving into management, upper management, and executive positions. Finally, there are 79 million Millennials—also known as Gen Y—born between 1982 and 2000, the oldest of which is just now entering the workforce in significant numbers.

The Challenge

Simply put, while the current economic downturn may delay Baby Boomers’ retirement plans, the demographic reality is that in the very near future, 84 million Baby Boomers will be exiting the workforce. With only 68 million Gen Xers to back-fill those retiring Boomers, the balance will have to come from the ranks of Gen Y who have the advantage of timing and demographics. Even with fluctuating unemployment percentages, there continues to be increasing demand and competition for young employees who bring new perspectives and technological abilities to the workforce. There is simply no escaping our demographics. Managers face major challenges as they struggle to understand, collaborate with, and integrate Gen Y into their teams. In short, business leaders will have to learn to think, communicate, and behave differently if they are to attract and keep these new employees. While many believed the recent economic downturn would make them more collaborative and reluctant to change jobs, data has not supported that belief. Instead, they have simply moved home to live with their Baby Boomer parents in greater numbers than seen in prior generations.

The Solution

Large Fortune 500 companies are already seeking to implement programs to attract and retain Gen Y, and medium and smaller-sized companies will have to do the same in order to stay competitive. The secret to recruiting, retaining, and successfully motivating this group is understanding their strengths and priorities - what I call “Magnet Factors.”

Gen Y Strengths

1. Technology and Information Gathering Understanding technology is critical to understanding Gen Y. Those born after 1985 have never known a world without a computer, microwave, ATM card, cell phone, and a TV remote control. It’s this comfort with technology that allows them to be extremely capable at finding useful, competitive information quickly—as long as it exists on the Web.

2. Diversity Appreciation Through online social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, Gen Y has been able to reach beyond geography, nationality, and ethnicity in ways previous generations could not. They have become socially connected to people all over the world. These connections diminish the importance of differences that previous generations used to divide, segregate, and categorize. One’s origin, skin color or accent matter little to them. The only thing that matters is a desire to connect.

3. Team Orientation Many in this group received their first cell phone in their early teenage years. In turn, they’ve been constantly linked to family, friends, and peers. Their need to connect predisposes them to seek input from others and to check with other members of the team before making decisions, whether they are large or small. This type of checking and communication happens via text messages, cell phone calls, and e-mail.

4. Multitasking This generation has grown up playing on the computer, watching TV, talking on the cell phone, and listening to their iPod—all at the same time. They will staunchly defend their right to watch TV while studying, and text message during the work day and/or during meetings and presentations. For Gen Y, multitasking is as natural as eating.

5. Cause Driven Gen Y wants to find meaning and purpose in everything they do. This enables them to lead a “blended life.” They see themselves as having an important role in the world. And when that role is not clearly identified, they seek to define it. They seek a purpose. This is evidenced by the causes they have adopted in large numbers, particularly the environment and politics.

Priorities or “Magnet Factors”

1. Time Time is a threshold factor for Gen Y. If an employer doesn’t offer sufficient holiday, vacation, or sick time or opportunities to gain additional time off, they are unlikely to consider the position. Companies that want to recruit and retain this group have turned to progressive strategies to manage time off such as Personal Time Off (PTO), Leave Without Pay, and creating opportunities to earn additional time off.

2. Flexibility Flexibility refers to working hours and scheduling. Gen Y looks for flexible hours and a corporate culture that understands its desire for a “blended life.” Many companies that have adopted strategies such as flex scheduling, comp time, job sharing, and performance/incentive based pay have done well in achieving their recruitment, retention, and performance goals for Gen Y.

3. Personal Growth This generation values learning and education. They want to be good at what they do and grow both personally and professionally. They have grown up in a peer-to-peer world where ideas are shared openly and they believe growth comes through information sharing. As a generation, they are confident in their abilities and want to advance their career by taking on additional responsibilities.

4. Relationships While Gen Y clearly defines relationships differently from previous generations, relationships are indeed a priority. Direct supervisors must take an interest in their entire career—not just what they can do in their immediate position or company—to gain loyalty and top performance from Gen Y employees. Communications should be bidirectional, offering them the opportunity to both receive and give feedback.

5. Cause This group wants to be a part of something larger than themselves. They want to be successful and belong to a cause. Everything they do must have meaning and purpose. This means that even entry-level positions should be tied — clearly and concisely —to the mission of the company. It is this need for cause that allows them to lead a “blended life” and allows managers the opportunity to engage them and retain them.

These “Magnet Factors” are the factors that companies are using to recruit and retain Gen Y. These are the companies that Millennials want to work for and when they get in, they don’t leave. While I have presented these five factors as Gen Y “Magnet Factors” because they are required in order to successfully recruit and retain Gen Y, these are five factors that work for every generation in the workforce. If you go to a Baby Boomer today, who is late to mid-career, and you say to them, “I’d like to offer you a little more flexibility in your work schedule.” What do you think they’ll say in response, “Don’t give me any of that!” It’s unlikely. Albert Einstein stated, “To do the same thing over and over again and expect different results is insanity.” So, in order to get different results we must innovate and do things differently. We know that what we are currently doing with Gen Y is not working. We also know that this is the generation that will be filling the vacuum created by retiring Baby Boomers. If we want to successfully recruit and retain this generation, we will have to understand their strengths and priorities - and innovate to ensure the security of our organizations and of our future workforce.

Author Bio

Dr. Gustavo Grodnitzky (Dr. Gustavo) is a speaker, author, consultant, and psychologist whose diverse background brings a unique and multi-dimensional perspective to his clients. After obtaining his Ph.D. in clinical and school psychology, he completed post-docs in both cognitive therapy and forensic psychology. As a consultant and professional speaker, he has delivered more than 1,000 presentations on a variety of topics, including corporate culture, emotional intelligence, and integrating multi-generational workforces.