Feature: Engaging successfully with Gen Y employees

The challenges of engaging successfully with Gen Y employees

September 4, 2013

The case for internal communications and employee engagement has always been built around competitive advantage. But engaging with Gen Y employees is a whole new ball game. IC Magazine looks at how we need to adapt.

Are UK employers in danger of being left behind as we approach the biggest workforce change in over 50 years?

According to mounting opinion, not since the rise of the Baby Boomers in the early 1960s has such a shift in working behaviours occurred.

At its heart is a clash of cultures and ideals, and importantly, attitudes to work.

And yet, it seems, few, if any, major organisations are making preparations to absorb its impact. In fact, mention Generation Y and most will stare blankly or dismiss the pretensions of another lost generation.

So, are they missing a trick?

Yes, says the blog site exceleratetalent. “In 2015 Gen Y will comprise approximately 40 per cent of the UK workforce, far outnumbering any other generation in employment. I have yet to find organisations that are worried and actively planning on this shift in the workforce.

“At work, generational differences can affect everything from recruiting to managing to employee engagement to increasing organisational performance. When the economy turns around organisations will be forced to adapt, as they will have difficulty retaining Gen Y-ers. It’s not a pretty picture.”

So who are Generation Y? And what are the challenges in managing them?

Broadly speaking, the term applies to anyone born between 1982 and 2002 – the ’18-30s’; tech savvy; with a strong desire to get on; wants a healthy work/life balance; and who will become the managers, leaders and consumers of the future.

Gen Y

Ashridge Business School and the Institute of Leadership & Management joined forces to look more closely at the work expectations of Generation Y graduates and their managers.

Here’s what they found:
• More than half (56%) of graduates expect to be in a management role within three years of starting work
• 38% of graduates are dissatis?ed with their career advancement within their current organisation
• Over half (57%) of graduates expect to eave their employer within two years
• The three top priorities in the workplace for graduates are challenging/interesting work (33%), a high salary (32%) and advancing their career (24%)
• Graduates want their managers to: respect and value them (43%); support them with career progression (36%); trust them to get on with things (35%); and communicate well with them (34%)
• Managers see regular feedback about performance (50%) and setting clear objectives (49%) as the most important behaviours – and wrongly believe that this is what graduates are looking for.

It’s good to talk

Dr Carina Paine Schofield from Ashridge Business School argues it’s time to go beyond the negative stereotypes and start talking with a new generation of employee.

“The stereotypical view of a Gen Y worker can be very negative: they’re arrogant, lazy, they lack commitment and they want everything right now. On the flipside you can see Gen Y as never being afraid to ask a question, keen to have an honest dialogue, and eager to make things happen faster – which, when taken as a whole, is not a bad set of qualities for our future leaders to have.

“Once you go beyond the hype, the truth is that Gen Y is a complex bunch, with complex behaviours – like any other generation.

Dr Carina Paine Schofield
Dr Carina Paine Schofield, Research Fellow at Ashridge Business School.

“As part of my research I’ve spoken to graduates in their first ‘proper’ job as well as the people managing them.

“I found a significant disconnect between the groups in their approach to the workplace – particularly in how they saw their relationship with each other, and their career progression.

“Gen Y employees want a manager to act as coach/mentor, not just direct or issue orders. They also want to progress quickly up the corporate ladder, and many plan to move on within two years. At the same time Gen Y want to maintain a healthy work-life balance and do not buy in to the long working hours culture in the way their managers have.

“So how do we tackle the disconnect? My advice to managers and internal communicators working with Gen Y employees is talk to them, get them involved, and find out how they are communicating with each other (both inside and outside of work). One company I spoke to embraced the fact that their Gen Y-ers were going to move on.

“They saw the importance of an open relationship from the start, and staying in touch with them even after they’d moved on to another organisation. The result was great ambassadors for their organisation and a ready network of people that they could tap into.

“By focusing on two-way communications, giving information in a variety of ways, with an opportunity to question, interact and give feedback, you can achieve better understanding in the workplace.

“If you embrace Gen Y employees as individuals instead of stereotyping, and find new and different ways of doing things, this can bring valuable skills to the workplace. Finally, remember, there’s an awful lot of potential for organisations to unlock, not only among Gen Y.

“Gen Y can provide the opportunity to plan for the future and look hard at the workplace for ALL ages of employees. In the end everyone will benefit.”

>> Dr Carina Paine Schofield is a Research Fellow at Ashridge Business School and a member of Generation X. She started researching Gen Y in 2008, and has co-authored a number of reports, the most recent being ‘Culture Shock’.
Her next report will look at the contribution of all of the generations in the workforce of the future, and interviews for that will start in September. To take part, or find out more go to: www.ashridge.org.uk/GenYResearch