Reaching the Gen Y Worker

Discussion
Mar 23, 2007

By Tom Ryan

Lots of people claim to have figured out ways to get the Gen Y generation to buy. But how do you get them to work?

They are impatient with long explanations, want immediate rewards and heaps of praise, and expect deeply involved bosses. They are willing to do grunt work if it’s clear what they get in return and how their job relates to the bigger picture.

“This is a different kind of worker,” consultant Bruce Tulgan, author of Managing the Generation Mix, told the Chicago Tribune. “They are not going to come in and figure it out and keep their heads down and their mouths shut.”

Hiring and training practices are being overhauled across corporate America as this generation–also known as Millennials–enters the job market. Born between the late 1970s and late 1990s, they are the biggest generation since the baby boomers and the fastest-growing segment of the work force.

On the plus side, employee training is being significantly enhanced because Gen Y members are incredibly technology savvy. Companies across industries are making extensive use of highly-interactive online programs to train this new breed of employee.

For instance, Nike Inc. began developing Web-based training four years ago to teach sales associates at sporting goods stores about Nike products. Their average age is 18 to 24. The result was “Sports Knowledge Underground,” an interactive program with animation and sound that mimics a subway system with routes to learning basic sales skills and product information. Soon, the training program will be able to be delivered to personal digital assistants and iPods, and perhaps eventually to cell phones.

“We thought about this audience for quite a while,” said Michael Donahue, e-learning manager and program manager for Sports Knowledge Underground. “We knew the program had to be entertaining. A lot of these kids have grown up in the gaming era.”

But motivating Millennials appears trickier. Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital employs a more low-key approach than in the past during orientation. New hires meet all the top executives on their first day of orientation. Rather than hearing speeches, however; they meet them during casual coffee breaks.

“We brought that about because of the younger generation’s need to connect with the people in the organization,” said Northwestern’s chief learning executive Justin Lombardo. “They are loyal to the people, not to the place.”

Another difference is that Northwestern will seek feedback from recruits at the close of the first session.

“Most Gen X and Gen Ys want to tell you what they think,” said Mr. Lombardo.

Among other approaches employers are using to engage this cyber generation, Ernst & Young gave a group of San Francisco interns video cameras and encouraged them to ‘vlog’ (‘video’ and ‘blog’) their experience. At CDW Corp., recruits see a three-minute video depicting “a day in the life” of a CDW account management” to provide a more realistic view of what the job entails. And new employees at Stone Cold Creamery see a welcoming online video touting the merits of the ice cream chain to encourage retention.

“A lot of employers are just beginning to realize we can’t continue to do things the way we have,” said Forrester Research senior analyst Claire Schooley.

Discussion Questions: How do you think Gen Y workers will differ from past generations and how do you get the most out of them? Can you share any experiences you’ve had in dealing with Gen Y employees at your company?

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17 Comments on "Reaching the Gen Y Worker"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

After World War II, retailers’ employee turnover mushroomed and the trend of high turnover never stopped. Gen Y isn’t engaged, but neither was Gen X or the Boomers or anyone else since 1946. Screening, training, employee communication, and motivation all largely failed for the past 60 years in most retail organizations. The basics of treating people with respect have not changed. The assumption of most retailers: the staff is a cost to be minimized (not a resource or an asset). This assumption hasn’t changed in 3 generations and retailing shows the results every day. In the 1950s, only a small minority of retailers were preferred employers and that’s still the case today.

Dave Allen
Guest
Dave Allen
15 years 1 month ago

Wow, what a discussion! I am a proud “baby boomer” and remember very well some of the same criticisms of the “hippy” era. I wore longer hair to my interviews to hear the comments of the prospective managers. My primary intent, although I’m not sure even I understood it fully, was to gauge whether they were hiring me only for my hair style, or who I was. I had conceded to wear the coat and tie, but vowed that if they said no because I didn’t have a crew cut, I didn’t want to work for them. I was very fortunate to get a job with a great company in manufacturing, and am working at headquarters 33 years later. All we seem to change over the years are the labels. We’re all still individual people, and only ask to be treated that way.

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

The problem with research, discussions and theorizing about generational issues: it’s often done by one generation, thinking about another. It leaves out actually really studying those in that generation and actually letting those in that generation tell you about themselves. And, when they do…actually listening.

I completely admire Blist’s, Jennifer’s and Lindsay’s comments. They have expressed themselves extremely well and taught us a lot today. Good for them. I hardly believe that their stories are unique and I am witness to proof that they are not; myself having a child the same age. Thanks to them for participating and hopefully, questioning thought. They inspire me.

Mr. Cowgill had it correct saying, “Let them disrupt these poor practices of the business world. Let them show us all we need to do things much better. Let our failures become so evident that we can no longer ignore them.”

Michele Eby
Guest
Michele Eby
15 years 1 month ago
As I was reading this article and the comments, I was concerned with labeling. In so many areas of work and life, it’s easy to focus on differences instead of similarities. But, the similarities are there. Every employee wants to feel valued, regardless of their age or generation. Every employee wants to feel connected to his or her boss and co-workers. Every employee wants to know that what they do at work matters. And every employee wants to feel like they know what’s going on. Trying to figure out what is going to motivate Gen Yers to work hard is disrespectful and does everyone an injustice. Leaders who focus on people as individuals should take offense as well as Gen Yers who don’t fit neatly into the stereotype described. A strong leader focuses on an employee as a person. What motivates him or her? What strengths can be developed? How does this person learn? What will make this employee feel appreciated and valued? And, a strong leader knows that the same thing won’t work for… Read more »
Paige Holden
Guest
Paige Holden
15 years 1 month ago
I find Mr. Kouzomis’ comments regarding Gen-Y offensive. Many of the comments regarding my generation on this discussion are not flattering, but I find something very sad about a professor, who is expected to understand and lead new generations towards a bright future, drafting a statement so very biased. It truly is a comment on the poor state of education today–which is one of the reasons why I decided to graduate early (3 years), magna cum laude, and start working right away. As a Gen-Yer who has held a job since age 14, not because I had to, but because I wanted to, I think that many people are underestimating the work ethic of the Millenials. We want to work hard, but we also want to be appreciated at the same time. Many of us grew up in households, or know friends who have, whose parents were laid off after 20 years of hard work and loyal service–just so the stock price would go up a point. Why should we be loyal to a company?… Read more »
Steven Collinsworth
Guest
15 years 1 month ago
Get a grip folks. This is nothing more or nothing less than what all the generations in the past have been clamoring for for eons. They want a voice, they want their voice to be heard, and they want their work to mean something. Meeting with the top executives on their first day of employment may not be practical in all companies, but it could certainly be done with many companies. Presentations from higher ups are too often filled “drips, drabs, & dribbles” that quite honestly don’t mean a thing, except to those who authored them. Talk to the new employees at day 1 or week 1 and then talk again after 3-4 months when they are more established. The people performing the work are the experts in what they do. They see it everyday; how to improve processes, save money, and eliminate waste. Mr. Lombardo talks of the younger generation’s need to connect with others in the company. Even their “loyalty to the people not the place.” What a concept. Unfortunately, these Gen Yers… Read more »
Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
15 years 1 month ago
This generation is nothing like its parents or the early aged Boomers (’56 to ’65) or their grandparents. Everything mentioned is on point but not that demanding…if the boss receives the quality work in a reasonable time. The problem lies with the time needed to explain why he/she must do this chore or project and then, say, you are getting paid the maximum hourly pay with full coverage/benefits for 30 hours/week. This is major. These Gen Yers want instant and more rewards. But this generation, in most cases, wasn’t taught 1) the expense of living, and 2)working during high school, or 3)keeping a check book. All is plastic and parent’s bills. It has been reported that parents have given the Gen Yers permission to not worry and do these eventual important needs after college. Excuse me, did I say college graduate, in 4 years? Sorry, it could be up to 6 and still no degree. Urgency and working hard in school does not seem to be in the Gen Yers’ vocabulary. The Y generation’s current… Read more »
Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
15 years 1 month ago
From how I often hear people in this age group described, you would think they are from another planet. This points out to me, besides the data we have verifying this, that business organizations are poor at motivating people at all, no matter what the age. If Behaviorism were a religion, business people would be fundamentalists because it is such a widely accepted practice to reward people for what you want them to do and to punish them for what you don’t–bonuses, incentive pay, evaluation, write-ups, and on and on. The failures of this primitive scheme are well documented, yet, not surprisingly, the business world seems to consider challenges to it absurd. Corporate training in every segment at every level, again according to our data, is not effective. I am sorry if this hurts some feelings out there. Our data shows that it is ineffective because: it is designed and delivered without the involvement of those who participate, and its delivery formats (whether lecture, “presentation,” computer-interactive, etc.) inhibits learning and commitment. Yes, inhibits. This seems… Read more »
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Guest
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
15 years 1 month ago

You get them to work by asking them to do meaningful work and not “monkey work,” and by clearly explaining to them, in short, what is in it for them. You must get them to tune into WIFM (What’s in it for me).

David Zahn
Guest
15 years 1 month ago
This is not the issue that it has been made out to be in my opinion. EVERY generation’s young strives to put their mark on the work environment. The issue is not how “we” (meaning the NON-generationals, the so-called managers) cater to or accommodate them, but rather how will they develop into managers. The cart is being put before the horse here. The business builds a strategy, a purpose a reason for being and then goes out and sources people to provide the skills to give it the ability to meet the strategic purpose. What we are discussing here is the having the business yield to the wants and desires of the employee “shopping” for places that are consistent with his or her own wants. On a personal basis, I would counsel a fresh graduate to seek that (with some understanding that you may need something different than you want at times). However, organizationally, it is foolhardy to change an organization founded on solid principles to attract people that likely are a poor fit for… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 1 month ago

I think it’s funny that the blame is going to the Gen Y kids. The problem isn’t the kids, it’s the managers. Many in our great country are taught that “manager” means “don’t have to work anymore”! We have developed into a nation of managers who EXPECT things to work in our absence. We don’t train retail help (especially part timers). We don’t explain the business and when we do, it’s without passion or commitment. It’s all about moving up to the next job where you can “manage” a large group of people who also expect things to work without putting in any effort. I think all the kids are saying is “it doesn’t look like you care about whats going on, so tell me why I should care.” With labor short and worker expectations high, I think it’s time for “managers” to again become mentors and teachers and learn to lead.

Sam Brown
Guest
Sam Brown
15 years 1 month ago

I think someone needs to research how much of the observed Gen-Y behaviors–need for constant feedback, desire to loudly voice their opinions, impatience, etc.–are attributable to age, not generation. People in their early to mid-20s are developmentally different than people in their 30s or 40s, and many of the ‘symptoms’ of being part of Gen-Y sound a lot like an adolescent hangover to me.

Jennifer Howe
Guest
Jennifer Howe
15 years 1 month ago

I would like to respond to Stephan G. Kouzomis’ comment. I am 24 years old. I 1) Understand the expense of living, having a husband, condo and full-time marketing job. 2) Worked part-time through high school cleaning toilets and vacuuming at a furniture store. 3) Balance my checkbook every week. Also, my student loans and bank account paid my way through college, which, by the way, I finished in four years. I graduated on a Saturday, and began working full-time at a newspaper that following Monday.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

If you have read all of the comments above, I think you will see in most cases some very different opinions; all of them right in one way or another.

Having spent the last 30 years focused on better hiring and retention and the last 20 totally focused on hiring and retention of the frontline workers, I have a couple of quick observations.

1. Yes there are some definite generational differences in the way people want to receive a message. But the message seems to be the same for all generations.

2. Yes this new generation is going to learn more about the world of work. In a presentation I just did, I noted that the BLS reports that the lowest number of teenagers are in the workforce since they have been keeping records: 39%. So when and where are they going to learn about work?

3. We are learning from this new generation and the change in the workforce that all good employees want the same thing.

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
15 years 1 month ago
As a part-time professor who enjoyed a long career in business, I am troubled by an incredible divide between the educational world and the business world. Most students coming through the traditional educational system have no clear ideas on what their opportunities are. They graduate lost and confused; demotivated by the challenge. Meanwhile their academic, self-important, tenured professors keep jacking up the price of a largely irrelevant education. In contrast, when universities make the effort to align themselves with their local business community, as mine has, an entirely different situation emerges. Students seem to thoroughly enjoy the challenge of planning their entry into business. They experiment with different options through co-op programs and work study programs. They relish case studies and jump at any opportunity to interact with business leaders. They all seem to thirst for real-world learning. The problem is not with Generation Y. The problem is with an educational system that arrogantly ignores business, thus leaving students unprepared. And the problem is with a business community that thinks they don’t need to get… Read more »
Brian List
Guest
Brian List
15 years 1 month ago
I am growing very impatient with the labeling on the so-called “Generation Y” workers. I would like to know where many of these assumptions are coming from and who is being asked opinions on working conditions. I would like to give three short examples of “Gen Y” workers: myself, my fiancé, and my best friend–a new father to an adorable baby boy. I am 23 years old and recently got a job as research analyst/editor for a database marketing company. I began working at age 13, mowing lawns. At 15, I started my first job as a bagger at a grocery store. I worked there for seven years, putting myself through college while holding various management positions. I feel that many assumptions in this article are not true as I compare myself to them. I do not need excessive attention from my boss, I do not need immediate “heaps of praise and rewards” and I am far from impatient. My fiancé also worked her way through college as an administrative assistant and was recently promoted… Read more »
Devangshu Dutta
Guest
Devangshu Dutta
15 years 1 month ago
The idea that the “younger generation” is from another planet is age-old, and no different from the notion that “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” However, there is certainly a fundamental cultural shift that is taking place at work that is a product of the social, political and economic changes of the last 20 years or so. In India’s case, I call this Generation-C (C for Choice). The 20+ year olds or younger who are entering the workforce in India are ones who were born after the introduction of color television in India (1982), who have grown up with the explosion of media options, who have always seen multiple models of colorful cars running around on the roads. They’ve savored the fruits of liberalization during their childhood. Similar shifts were happening in China, having started a couple of years earlier — and Eastern Europe — and South Africa — and, of course, the US and Western Europe. There is absolutely no doubt that these changes mean something to the attitude that this generation… Read more »
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