Command-and-control management is foreign to more than 70 million Americans who make up Generation Y. Unlike previous generations, members of Gen Y have been pampered and programmed to believe in their own worth. They’ve grown up questioning their parents and are now questioning their employers. They don’t expect to stay in a job, or even a career, for long, but they are looking to leave a mark wherever they go. And they likely will seek multiple options and venues to satisfy their development needs.
“The older generations typically look to receive their development on the job,” said Kim Huggins, president of K HR Solutions LLC and author of GENerate Performance! Unleashing the Power of a Multigenerational Workforce. “They often rely on their manager to take charge of their career path and make recommendations for how they grow and develop. The younger generations tend to drive their own career path. They look for guidance from their manager, mentor and others but ultimately they make their own decisions about their next move. They are much more likely to change jobs or companies if they do not feel their developmental needs are being met.”
Different Objectives, Same Values
According to a recent SBR Consulting study, although 70 percent of millennials say there is a possibility they will change jobs once the economy improves, and more than one-third (36 percent) stated they definitely or probably will, job-hopping is a millennial stereotype grounded in little truth for one reason: Millennials aren’t the only employees who seek greener pastures when they are disengaged in their jobs. Of the 225 Business Insider readers who responded to a December survey, 57 percent of those who quit their jobs in the past two years left without another opportunity lined up. Further, it’s not just young people who were doing this: 54 percent of people ages 25-34 quit without another opportunity versus 55 percent of people ages 35-49.
During the peak of the recession, employees were far more likely to stay put unless they were laid off. There was a sense of thankfulness to have a job — especially for recent graduates. As the recession dragged on and companies kept cutting positions, fewer employees were left and resources became scarce. Morale and loyalty began to drop to an all-time low, but it was accepted because gratitude for employment prevailed. Now times are changing, for all generations.
“Respect means something different to each of us; it is something that all of us desire, especially in the workplace,” Huggins said. “Respect is shown or not shown through the attitude, actions and approaches of leaders every hour of the work day. Leaders should do a self-assessment of how they show respect to their employees. This can provide great insight, and with some minor adjustments can have a significant impact on employee morale. A one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work anymore. Leaders have to be willing to modify their style to fit the needs of their employees.”
According to findings from a 2011 Rouen Business School study, there is no generational difference between such needs in the workplace, which debunks many stereotypes about Generation Y. Rouen professor Jean Pralong carried out an intergenerational study on 400 French participants with similar educational backgrounds, ranging from students to salaried workers in their 60s. The research compared three groups: Gen Y master’s level students, Gen Y salaried workers in their first jobs and salaried workers from Generation X. The study showed that attitudes toward the workplace and ideas about careers between Generation X and Generation Y are the same.
“There are differences between Generation Y students and Generation Y salaried workers,” Pralong said. “It’s the context — being a student or having entered a company for the first time — that makes the difference rather than being part of a certain generation. It’s logical: People immersed in the same context are socialized similarly; they share their peers’ thinking and react to the same difficulties or conditions.”
Pralong said disenchantment, when it exists, comes from uncertainty about careers long-term. It also comes from excessive individualization in management methods. Wanting to challenge or stimulate an employee too much, leaders forget that he or she also needs stability, coherence and fairness. Fundamentally, businesses that retain their employees and obtain excellent performances from them are those that offer fair management systems and favor personal development in a stable environment.
Despite conclusions from Pralong’s studies, many employers continue to believe the desire for development varies depending on an employee’s age.
“We’re undergoing a transition from people needing to learn when there’s either something urgent or it’s remedial to a learning environment where there’s an idea of continuous learning; we all need to be more comfortable learning all the time,” said Lynne Lancaster, co-author of When Generations Collide. “That can present challenges for the different generations. We need experiential learning that gives the younger ones an opportunity to ask questions, listen and learn from experienced workers.”
Lancaster said learning leaders need to think about knowledge transfer during the next decade. It’s not just learning rules, procedures and technologies — there are some subtle forms of learning where they must identify what type of knowledge has to be passed from employee to employee and find more ways to make that happen.
The combination of Generation Y climbing the professional ranks and baby boomers refusing to retire has dramatically shifted the composition of the workforce, but on Jan. 1 this year, the oldest members of the baby boomer generation celebrated their 65th birthday. According to Pew Research Center, for every day for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65. Currently, 13 percent of Americans are 65 and older. By 2030, when all members of the boomer generation have reached that age, 18 percent of the nation will be at least 65.
Next Generation Leaders
Millennials may not be boomers’ direct replacements, but they are in the pipeline. As organizations continue to compete for a shrinking supply of qualified applicants, their focus will be on recruiting and retaining the youngest generation’s brightest talent.
For example, through interviews and focus groups at Intuit, the organization has found younger workers like to have greater visibility to career paths and the ability to explore different career options. Therefore, the company has created a Next Generation Network to facilitate networking and mentorship through social networking events and lunches with senior leaders. Intuit also promotes cross-company innovation through reverse mentoring programs where members are encouraged to share social, mobile and productivity tools with colleagues.
Intuit’s use of networks and small groups isn’t limited to employee networks. The 28-year-old software company keeps design teams small enough for two pizzas to feed them and ensures ideas are executed into concepts in less than six weeks, resulting in an environment that’s like a network of start-ups with the support and resources of a large, established company.
“We give employees white space time to think and a platform for experimentation so they have the flexibility and freedom to create solutions that solve big customer problems,” said Michael McNeal, vice president of talent strategy and acquisition at Intuit. “Employees can come here and build products, be entrepreneurial and develop the capabilities to start, run and grow a business. We keep it fast, fun and innovative, and this environment helps us attract and retain top talent.”
This environment also attracts Generation Y employees. McNeal said millennials often seek mentorship with senior leaders and like to learn by doing, so short-term projects in a variety of product groups are important. Younger workers have grown up with technology, and they live a digital lifestyle, so Intuit offers online and interactive learning and development opportunities.
Similarly, learning leaders at L’Oral USA believe the most important way to attract millennials is by clearly articulating that life at the cosmetics and beauty company means personalization and options. The organization’s message is about opportunities versus careers.
“Millennials want a plan that is specific to them,” said Sarah Hibberson, senior vice president of human resources at L’Oral USA. “They want a lot of information and guidance on their development. Learning more closely resembles games than logic to them, and multitasking is a way of life.”
To cater to Gen Y’s career projections, L’Oral offers a management development program in several areas, including marketing. In this program, a new hire goes through six months of integration including a week-long discovery program. This includes three months of sales experience and three months of consumer intelligence experience. Then the employee begins a rotation supporting a marketing team. During this time the employee attends several formalized learning programs and can spend up to 18 months in this program before graduating to a specific open position in marketing.
“It is important that there is leadership within the organization Gen Y can relate to,” Hibberson said. “We want our Gen Y employees to have a first assignment with someone who many times went through the same hiring and integration track they did.”
As Generation Y gains traction in the workforce, tactics used by organizations such as Intuit and L’Oral will become mainstream for all generations. At Southwest Airlines, for example, any new development opportunities created may cater to Gen Y, but they are available to, utilized for and appreciated by all employees.
“We don’t do anything different or anything special in particular to attract Gen Y folks,” said Bonnie Endicott, manager of leadership development at Southwest Airlines. “Our ‘Living the Southwest Way’ motto sets our expectations, which we require of all employees, regardless of the generation. We attract a lot of millennial employees because they value this community. We ask you to wear your spirit, work hard, be innovative, courageous and have a servant’s heart. We’ve done very well in getting a variety of folks from all generations into our workforce, but our culture really attracts Gen Y.”
Southwest focuses on cross-functional learning as opposed to efforts siloed by department to allow all generations to build cross-functional skills and to network. The company’s corporate university, The University of People, gives employees 10 different freedoms, and one is the freedom to learn and grow. Every employee works with his or her leader to create a development plan. The plan is executed in whichever way the employee prefers — formal classes, lunch and learns or book debriefs, for example. Rather than consider generational differences, the company looks at development in lieu of learning style.
“Adults in particular have different learning styles,” Endicott said. “We try to address those and make sure we have components to engage all four generations in the workforce. Recruiting and retaining Generation Y is important, but the focus is the greater workforce. If you offer a variety of ways to learn, reinforcing the central concepts in a variety of ways, you’re going to hit all your different learning styles and employees.”