Gen Y - observations from employers and employees

September 2012

The Globe and Mail recently published two articles, and printed them side by side. The headline, "How can I get experience if I can’t get a job?" was juxtaposed with this one: "No personal calls or e-mail? No job, thanks."

In the first article, a recent graduate was frustrated in his job search though doing all the ‘right’ things – networking, volunteering, and applying to seemingly endless job ads. In the second article, the Wall Street Journal quoted sources suggesting that 23 per cent of U.S. university graduates would not take a position where they couldn’t place or receive personal phone calls, and 20 per cent would reject an offer from an employer that didn’t permit them to check personal e-mail. Later that same month, record unemployment statistics for those aged 19-25 were reported alongside an article whose headline read "Labour shortage becoming desperate." What gives?

The challenges and opportunities related to Generation Y

Gen Y is defined in various ways, but for our purposes, we’ll deal with those who have graduated from a post-secondary program, are presently working or seeking employment, and are 22 to 33 years of age.

Some of our clients tell us that they face challenges relating to how to hire, motivate, retain and capitalize on Gen Y employees. What advice do we have for those organizations struggling with addressing Gen Y’s reported need for faster promotions, greater responsibilities and more flexible work schedules, while also trying to respect employees over the age of 33 who are dealing with their own pressures?

We’ve listened to comments from both Gen Y employees as well as from those trying to lead this talented group, and have compiled a list of suggestions. (We do ask that you go easy on us if we’ve got it wrong. Our observations are just that – observations.) That said, we'd really welcome your comments - whether you agree or disagree with what we've noted below - in addition to any other thoughts you'd like to share.

Observations for Employers to consider:

  • Build your employer brand on the web. No, this doesn’t mean that your CEO needs to take up blogging and tweeting, and we don’t need to ‘like’ your company on Facebook, but you do need to create and maintain a meaningful web presence. Coincidentally, likely the best person to play a key role in a social marketing initiative related to your employer brand is indeed a Gen Y employee. Ditto any other social networking initiatives.
  • Outline what makes your organization different – from a consumer’s perspective, and also from an employee’s perspective. Is the company exploring more environmental ways of doing business? It is supporting social causes? What charities does it support? Does it play a lead role in the community? Does it hire those with disabilities?
  • In interviews, do your best to outline potential career path opportunities, provided the employee delivers on targets and the business environment can support them. And yes, quantifiable, measurable targets are critical.
  • Train and encourage your managers to provide more frequent feedback – both accolades and constructive criticism. Tweak your performance evaluation process to foster more frequent discussions. More importantly, encourage managers to provide ongoing feedback outside of these formal reviews – for all employees, not simply those we’d classify as Gen Y.
  • Spell out the corporate culture in terms of the hours employees are expected to be present in the office, as well as any flexibility that exists to work from home or off site. Perhaps even reviewing your company's dress code is a good way to avoid any potential mis-steps.
  • For those employees who have gone above and beyond by working endless hours to meet company needs, consider providing them with additional time off. This benefit of course has to be extended to all employees. For employees over 33 years of age, flexibility relating to time-off to deal with issues such as childcare or eldercare is highly-valued.

Suggestions for those 22-33 years of age to consider:

  • Realize that your employer needs to have the job done. There’s a reason we call our jobs "work". We get paid for doing what we do. Ask yourself, "How can I make my boss’s job easier? How can I make him/her look good?" After all, if you don’t impress your boss, you’re likely not going to go far in her company.
  • Look at your job over a longer timeframe. After a period of six months when you’ve been working long hours doing what appears to you to be meaningless work, you may feel that you’re giving your all and getting nothing back. The next six months, however, may see you attend a conference at the company's expense, or be the recipient of invaluable career training and coaching from your manager. Take a longer term view. Think of your career in two–year increments as a minimum.
  • Work hard and focus on your job. Put away your cell phone (unless it’s an emergency). Check your Facebook in the evenings, unless you are reaching out to a Facebook friend to do research on a project related to your job. The same applies to personal e-mails.
  • Bring fresh ideas. Be unafraid to ask, "Why have we always done it this way? Are there other ways to consider?" And then don’t be afraid to voice your well-thought out suggestion for improvement.
  • Offer assistance to those around you who may not be as technically savvy or up to date on current trends as you might be. The more seasoned worker may just take you under his wing to provide you with some advice of his own. Listen to the advice of those you feel have been successful. Leaders ten to twenty years your senior have wisdom that comes only from experience. Politely solicit it.
  • Formalize your written work – whether it is an email or a letter. 'cUd we plz sked a mtg 2 dis projct?' may not be very well-received by a broad audience.
  • Get up from your desk and walk down the hall to have a face-to-face conversation once in a while, or pick up the phone. Learn that at times, electronic communications are not optimal.
  • Understand that at certain times the business environment cannot support your ambitions. Reflect on the current state before you make a rash move you may later regret. Be thoughtful about your ambitions. Are they realistic and reasonable, both inside your company and elsewhere? Might you be better off to begin looking for a new opportunity? Before you leave, however, do your due diligence – is the grass indeed greener on the other side?

Share your thoughts

We would very much appreciate hearing of your experiences, insights and suggestions. Please feel free to email us, noting if you'd prefer that your contribution be treated as anonymous. We will summarize the comments and report back.

We are looking forward to a strong finish to 2012. As we enter the fourth quarter of this calendar year, we wish you the same.