Harnessing the potential of Generation Y employees

Millennials, Echo Boomers, the Net Generation, no matter what you call them, Generation Y will soon account for the predominant portion of the employed population.

Generation Y (Gen Y) is the group of young people that follows Generation X, however the exact boundaries remain undefined. The Financial Times Lexicon claims the term belongs to those born between 1975 and 1995, while the Oxford Dictionary gives ‘born in the 1980s and 1990s’. Regardless, this category of people will comprise three-quarters of the workforce by 2025, according to a Deloitte study.

Largely highly educated and self-confident, these young people are critical for the future, but their potential needs to be harnessed in the present day. Here are a few suggestions on how you can get the very best out of Gen Y:

Be flexible

An American study has revealed that one of the biggest requirements for job-seeking millennials is to find an employer with a healthy attitude towards work-life balance. Flexibility is key because Gen Y’s view of work is not the same as preceding generations; they tend to prioritise life outside the workplace – friends and family – above their job. Many will be reluctant to lose the free time they have become accustomed to in their pre-work existence. Flexibility, therefore, is important for attraction and retention.

It’s worth noting that later this year, the right to request flexible working is likely to be extended to anyone with 26 weeks’ service, so this this could be the time for businesses to start seriously considering how they can accommodate a raft of condensed working patterns, shifting hours and remote bases.

Offer them commensurate reward

One thing that businesses need to remember is that the average Gen Y worker possesses a self-worth which prompts them to demand a competitive salary. Many won’t consider roles that are benchmarked too low. To attract talent businesses need to offer a good wage and a decent benefits package. In return they are likely to hire someone who is happy to work hard, take on extra challenges and go far. Make no mistake, however, money isn’t everything.

Job fulfillment

An article in The Guardian claims that the eco-conscious Generation Y takes a more holistic view point than perhaps their predecessors do and seek a different kind of job fulfilment. This isn’t simply on a personal level; they also want to ‘achieve social good’ due to having grown up with the internet, which has alerted them to international plights and problems. A way to meet this desire for a ‘positive impact on the world’ might be to promote the business’s corporate social responsibilities. Or perhaps establish a volunteering scheme which allows participants time off to put their skills to good use elsewhere. Such schemes can equip employees not only with that sense of do-gooding, but with greater insight, empathy and appreciation – key characteristics of a future leader.

Mentor schemes

Research has shown that Gen Y tends to have a relaxed view toward authority, but they are happy to be coached or mentored by a senior colleague. The Deloitte report claims that they are keen to partner up with more experienced, older colleagues whom they can learn from, look up to and turn to guidance. This combination of experience and a tech-savvy, fresh perspective can prove hugely advantageous to any business.

Rapid development and progression

An impatient bunch – the product of an immediately gratified culture – the Deloitte report found that Gen Y doesn’t want to wait a long time for that next step. Consequently, it’s vitally important to communicate your opportunities for development and consequent progression. Don’t forget, this is the generation that has had to undertake months of unpaid internships and extra-curricular work in order to make their CV stand out from the rest. They’re ambitious and eager to equip themselves with skills that can advance their career quickly. Businesses would do well to introduce a performance/talent management programme that would accommodate such a fast-tracked ascent.

Feedback and recognition

For self-esteem, Gen Y wants regular feedback and recognition for a job well done. While this is a basic need, it’s particularly important to the outwardly confident Gen Y who are used to having their achievements immediately praised via social media. Feedback, whether constructive or congratulatory, is important as it allows this younger cohort to understand that their contribution is valued. In addition to celebrating successes, feedback also provide guidance and enables them learn – remember that for many, this could be their first ‘proper’ job.

This also provides managers with an easier way of identifying the top performers; those that might deserve recommendation for talent management schemes.

Review current IT provision and practices

A survey by CompTIA, reveals that the majority of Gen Y believes their tech abilities are ‘cutting edge’ and they understandably expect an employer’s IT provision to be suitably sophisticated. This generation were raised in the tech age and have skills that could streamline and improve existing processes. However, the appropriate infrastructure needs to be in place if these technologically-adept employees are to flourish and help you gain competitive advantage. This may require the tweaking of some old policies – such as use of instant messaging during work time or a ban on downloading more efficient software. Many may prefer to use their own devices, too, so it’s worth reviewing current practices.

Offer variety and watch them innovate

It would be an extremely unfair generalisation to state that the attention span of an average Gen Y employee is short, after-all, you could say that about the average Gen X or Baby Boomer if the workload is repetitive and unchanging. Nevertheless, offering variety is key for engagement and motivation, so it’s important that businesses present their younger workers with the opportunity to get involved in different projects aside from their own everyday tasks. Implementing a rotation programme, like that which is typical of graduate schemes, might work well, just be sure to encourage them to make suggestions and use their skills

What’s in it for you? Aside from retaining staff, you will also enable them to learn new skills and ultimately grow into happier, more competent and valuable member of staff. Who knows what that could lead to – amongst them could be the next CEO.

Foster a culture of respect in all directions

While there’s been worry that the ageing workforce will be subjected to discrimination, there’s also a concern that younger employees may not be taken seriously – based on their age. It’s important for everybody’s self-worth (and for the company’s adherence to employment rights) that businesses cultivate an all-encompassing culture of respect – one that extends to those delaying their retirement as much as it does to those born in the 1990s.

Clearly, the importance of harnessing the potential of Generation Y is huge; these people are the future of business, their actions will affect the economy and impact our personal lives. Taking the right steps at this early stage is something that all companies should be doing right now.