All you ever wanted to ask about Generation Y attitudes but were…

Artist: Mat Maitland
Artist: Mat Maitland

I do not know if generalizations are appropriate in case of describing a generation that is diversified. Although it may attribute to connect you to the generational context. May it generate in general terms intellectual fun and exitement!


By Alison Maitland

Published: June 18 2009 03:00 | Last updated: June 18 2009 03:00

Alex, a promising young trader with a US investment bank, was told that he would be promoted if he could complete a gruelling five-month training programme in just three months. Deciding that the personal price was too high, he turned the offer down twice before deciding to quit to coach a university soccer team.

Carrie, a risk management specialist in her 20s with experience of both nine-to-five and long-hours work, is similarly anxious not to be swallowed up by her job and hopes that the economic downturn will lead to a review of corporate rewards. “I would prefer to be in a situation where it was more about the work-life balance and less about the billion-dollar bonuses,” she says.

Alex and Carrie are both members of “Generation Y“, the population cohort commonly defined as being born between the late 1970s and the year 2000. Also known as “Millennials” or the “iPod Generation”, they are a group that is keenly debated and dissected by managers and marketers as the workers and consumers of the future.

Natives of the digital world, they are frequently portrayed as demanding, selfish, text-addicted and job-hoppers with little loyalty to their employers.

Yet two studies into the attitudes of those Generation Ys that are in the workplace suggest that Carrie, Alex and their young professional peers are not as different from other generations as supposed – and not just because the recession has upset their expectations.

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While craving excitement and challenge, nearly 90 per cent of Generation Ys describe themselves as loyal to their employer, according to the study Bookend Generations , published this week by the US-based Center for Work-Life Policy. In addition, nearly half of this tech-savvy and “connected” generation prefers face-to-face communication at work to e-mails, texts or phone calls.

Loyalty is also a key finding in European research to be published t omorrow. Young professionals interviewed for The Reflexive Generation , a report by London Business School’s Centre for Women in Business, surprised even themselves by their commitment.

“Some said they wouldn’t have expected to be so loyal to a company,” says Elisabeth Kelan, lead researcher. However, they are also highly adaptable and realistic about the need to move on if they are not promoted or not gaining new experiences, she says.

The US study questions notions of Generation Y’s uniqueness by uncovering some striking similarities between them and their baby boomer parents, now typically in their 50s.

“Both Gen Y and boomers are looking for what we call a ‘remixed’ set of rewards,” says the study. Both generations place at least as much importance on having high-quality colleagues, flexible work, recognition and access to new challenges as they do on financial compensation.

While the recession has forced many boomers drastically to rethink their retirement plans, it has not changed the underlying values of either generation, says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy.

Data collected in January show rising job insecurity and financial pressures, yet a continued strong desire for rewards related to “meaning” at work as much as money. “I think it’s a bit of a turning point in the culture. The dominance of materialistic and very earnings-driven goals has receded,” she says.

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These two generations are large enough to redefine what it means to be an “employer of choice”, argues Ms Hewlett, pointing to the 78m boomers and 70m Generation Ys in the US. They far outnumber the 46m in the in-between “Generation X” (people in their 30s and early 40s), who are more likely to be hemmed in by young children, mortgages and career challenges, and who tend to have more conventional attitudes to work and rewards, she says.

For companies wanting to motivate employees and drive growth as economies recover, a big challenge will be to redesign incentives for the two “bookend” generations, she adds. The good news is that this will be “far less costly than raises and bonuses”.

Some companies are already building on the common generational ground. Cisco Systems, the US maker of communications equipment maker, has connected its “legacy leaders network” for preretirement boomers with its “new hire network” to encourage a transfer of knowledge. It reports widespread interest in the initiative and says it has been useful for recruiting Generation Ys.

Young professionals’ desire for mentoring also emerges from the London Business School study, which is based on in-depth interviews with 42 individuals working in companies or studying for MBAs. Their average age was 26.

It finds that they want to shape their careers and have autonomy over their work lives but they also crave feedback; that they seek work-life balance but also challenges; and that they want to improve themselves, learn fast and dislike rigid rules.

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They are at ease with the notion of a diverse workforce and regard gender barriers as a thing of the past – yet they note a lack of diversity around them and identify business as “a man’s world”.

“This worries and confuses them,” the study says. “The men and women we spoke to wanted to be good citizens and good parents – their anxiety was that they do not know how to do this.”

So, is Generation Y really that different? Ms Kelan says it would take 20-30 years of study to be certain.


Artist: Mat Maitland
Artist: Mat Maitland

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