Nurturing Gen Y

Sunday, March 1, 2009 - 09:40

Members of the generation Y demographic will comprise 40 per cent of the workforce in a decade. Employers must nurture these current-day employees who are, after all, future managers. By Mark Story

The years of economic growth, which made hiring and retaining staff an increasingly tough act, created a benevolent climate for generation Ys starting work.

Now, with an economic downturn and the pendulum swinging away from their more eclectic skill sets, employers are questioning how a gen Y's attributes will influence their workplace culture and future management style.

The results of a survey of small to medium enterprises (SME) by SmartCompany suggest that for two-thirds of employers, poor spelling and grammar, and ignorance as to what constitutes appropriate workplace etiquette, are the major bugbears experienced when hiring twenty-somethings.

A more recent national Sensis Business Index survey is no less damning, with 1800 Australian SMEs regarding gen Ys as their least preferred employees. Unsurprisingly, only 13 per cent favour them over baby boomers and gen X employees.

Mining gen Y attributes

The reality is that gen Ys are increasing hard to ignore when hiring. They'll comprise 40 per cent of the workforce within a decade and will force generational change on workplace and management structures. Instead of snubbing them, businesses are being encouraged to prepare themselves.

Social researcher, Mark McCrindle, says it's high time employers started mining the attributes of gen Y employees, especially those who'll become future managers. For starters, he says, employers are more likely to improve and nurture gen Y loyalty by making conscientious efforts to overcome their well-publicised shortcomings while developing their strengths.

One of the biggest black marks to the hiring of gen Ys is their average two-year retention rate; half that of the national average. Even the recent graduate program of a major institutional bank could only retain 10 per cent of staff through to program completion. But, on an encouraging note, a national study of 3000 gen Ys revealed that 90 per cent would stay within the same company longer if relevant training was provided.

For employers, gen Y's primary claim to fame as tech-savvy (digital natives), free-spirited, innovative thinkers with finely developed social networking skills complements the growth parts of the economy (notably the services sector). However, McCrindle says if employers are genuine about cultivating them, they need to throw out the chain-of-command rule book and start creating a new workplace culture, with their gen Ys' input.

"Gen Y's bring excellent skills to today's workplace, and the work/life balance they've demanded has already delivered a quantum benefit for the entire organisation," says McCrindle, a trained psychologist.

Quick wins

So what can bosses do to cultivate the latent attributes of gen Y? If they want quick wins, Penny Ganas, Director of HR consultancy ReadyAimHire, suggests employers start by implementing an inclusive and participative management style and encourage open communication and transparency.

And, instead of spelling everything out for gen Y workers, she encourages managers to consult with them to develop more varied job descriptions and collaborative projects. Equally important, Ganas recommends tapping into what gen Ys want: monetary and non-monetary inducements like travel; flexible working hours; time in lieu; course attendance; and the option of working from home.

As well as equipping them with transferable skills, Ganas says it's also important that businesses begin training programs to teach the workplace skills that gen Ys are lacking. Based on McCrindle's research, "It's critical that management develop policies to embrace gen Y and develop a work/life culture where they can interact both socially and collaboratively," says Ganas.

According to young social entrepreneur, Alicia Curtis, who runs Alicia Curtis Leadership, employers should focus on providing future gen Y managers jobs with purpose, instead of just a shallow job description. She says employers who are serious about mining gen Y talent will create meaningful roles where individuals can make a real difference.

To Curtis, the big challenge for employers in mining gen Ys is balancing the role of manager with mentor. "Above all, gen Ys are looking for leaders, not bosses, and great learning, not lectures."