Engaging ‘Generation Y’: the challenges and opportunities for employers

On Thursday, October 30th 2014, Dublin’s Alexander Hotel hosted the latest in gradireland’s series of Breakfast Masterclasses.

The Halogen Talent Summit on the ‘The Future of Work – a Masterclass in Managing the New Generation’ explored such themes as:

  • How the workforce landscape is changing and what that means for students, graduates and employers.
  • Today’s inter-generational workforce: the modern workforce will have employees and managers ranging from those born pre-war, the ‘Maturist’ generation, post-war ‘Baby Boomers’, the ‘Generation X’ of the late 60’s and 70’s, Generation Y; those born in the 80’s and early 90’s and Generation Z, those born after 1995. See infographic below.
  • Specific strategies for employers to engage Generation Y, or the Millennial Generation, based upon Irish research featuring young professionals working as engineers, lawyers and accountants
MaryImage-1

Infographic showing the attributes of the various generations which are active in today’s workforce.

Generation Y & what they want?

The first presentation was by Dr Mary Collins, a Senior HR Professional currently working with the Royal College of Surgeons Institute of Leadership. For her doctorate, she completed an in-depth study of ‘Generation Y’ and their expectations and subsequent effects on the modern workplace. “In terms of career profiling, a Generation Y employee places a strong emphasis on being challenged, but they also want a work/life balance without a rigid workplace structure,” she explained. Adapting to the needs of ‘Generation Y’ is a growing priority for many employers today, as they represent the next generation of talent for any organisation, and recruiters today are saying that the competition for talent in today’s marketplace is stronger than at any time in the last seven years.

“The graduate entering an organisation today wants a ‘relational’ contract with their employer as opposed to the more traditional ‘transactional’ structure, where loyalty was given in return for reward. Today’s graduate wants to believe in his/her place of work and the overall objectives and business practises of the organisation for which they work. Generation Y employees want to work with an organisation, not for them.”

The benefits of engagement & the price of disengagement

Dr Collins went on to talk about the changing nature of the career path today’s graduates may take, where they can be expected to change jobs as much as 15-20 times during the course of their career. “This is happening and will continue to happen, the reality is that companies will have to adjust to people leaving and moving on and there is a necessity for companies to learn how to manage staff exits in a better fashion.”

Retention of the best new talent is a constant challenge for organisations, and, as Mary explained, one of the barriers to organisations keeping their best people is the failure to keep a high proportion of them ‘engaged’ and happy in the workplace. “Research shows that only 29% of employees could be described as engaged, with 52% disengaged-which translates as apathetic or unhappy-and 19% are actively disengaged, which manifests itself in active disruption within the organisation. If an employee is engaged, they are 87% less likely to leave and 20% more productive.”

Generation Y & their growing influence

So how can companies work successfully with Generation Y? This is the generation portrayed on the cover of Time Magazine as the ‘Me, Me, Me Generation’. In fact, judging by the presentation at the seminar, the challenge of recruiters in successfully engaging the Generation Y employee should be balanced in the fact that if the workplace in which this generation was properly realised, it could be argued that it would be a far better, more holistic, place in which to work for employees of any generation in the workforce. A 2014 Deloitte study also spoke of the importance to Generation Y of culture and career potential over pure monetary reward. While the aspirational and values-oriented culture of the millennial generation are to be admired, Dr Collins did add that these employees were prone to rapid disconnection or disengagement from an organisation and that, by and large, they did not respond well to criticism, although they value regular feedback highly.

“By 2025, the millennial generation will comprise over 75% of the global workforce. They want to work in environments which foster innovative thinking, they want to develop their skills, they want to nurture leadership skills and they want to work for organisations which make a positive contribution to society,” added Dr Collins. She added that tools for employers to use to engage Generation Y include creating meaning and purpose in their work, reinforcing the values and vision of their organisation to them, emphasising opportunity and challenge and showing an interest in their personal career path.

While the challenges of an inter-generational workforce are many, especially when viewed through the prism of companies and organisations seeking to maintain profit margins and operational effectiveness in the face of an economic climate that is still recovering, the benefits of successfully harnessing the power of three generations of effective workers is significant, reflective of the discipline of ‘Baby Boomers’ the work/life balance of ‘Generation X’ and the freedom and flexibility of ‘Generation Y’.

Our next blog from the ‘Future of Work’ Breakfast Masterclass will look at global demographics relating to work and its impact on today’s graduates.



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