Like it or not, the future is in the hands of Generation Y, and in this turbulent economy, an increasing number of companies are trying to find productive ways to work with a generation that has been raised on technology, the Internet, and ushered through their younger years on a velvet pillow.
Chris Elliott, senior manager of recruiting for the Phoenix office of The Capital Group, a worldwide firm that manages corporate and individual investments through mutual funds, says Gen Y poses some intriguing issues that companies must meet head-on. Like its investments, companies take the long-term view on employees, and this can be perplexing to the instant-gratification mentality of Gen Y.
“The recent change in market conditions seems to be best understood by people who consume a lot of news — whether through the newspaper, online or on television,” Elliott says. “Those people have heard about many companies that are reducing staff or decreasing benefits and they recognize that this has an impact on job offers in our market. However, some of Gen Y does not tend to follow the news closely and, not having experienced an economic downturn in their adult lives, they do not recognize the impact it could have on the overall job market.”
Mike Seiden, president and CEO of Western International University, believes Gen Y, even in this economy, is much more savvy than some might believe.
“Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Yer is less concerned about money than previous generations,” he says. “They want to earn as much as they can and are more than willing to play prospective employers against each other. We’ve all seen employees who accepted a job offer and were scheduled to start on Monday, but didn’t show up because they got a better offer over the weekend. It’s really too early to tell how the current economic situation will pan out, but I don’t expect that too many new employees will lower their salary expectations because the economy is having problems.”
The changing economic winds have educators evaluating their methodology, as well.
“We need to recognize and integrate the needs of business with the innate skills of this generation,” says Ajay Vinze, the Davis Distinguished Professor of Business and director of the Executive MBA Program at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “With Gen Y, technology is part-and-parcel with their existence. They see their cell phones and the Internet, and see the world and how they can make an impact.”
The education experience remains key to ensuring Gen Yers — no matter the economy — are ready to hit the ground running when they enter the work force. Gen Y is adept at working in a team environment and likes clear expectations and goals outlined for them.
“Our task is to keep track of the characteristics and skill sets of what employers are looking for and translate that into our teaching,” says Barbara Keats, an associate professor of management at W.P. Carey. Keats adds that the school continues to see Gen Y students struggling with some fundamental communications skills.
“They have the knowledge, they just need to be shown some strategies to communicate,” she says.
Still, what remains are some underlining factors employers should think about with Gen Y.
“I believe there is absolutely more of a sense of entitlement in this generation than in older generations,” Seiden says. “They expect they will be treated with respect, rewarded whenever they do a good job, have opportunities to advance as rapidly as they think they deserve to and will have the flexibility to live as they choose with little or no interference from the company in their lifestyles.”
While some, like Seiden, say Gen Y has a strong sense of entitlement, Vinze isn’t so sure that’s really the case. In fact, he says, the eagerness and hyper-urge to get things done can make Millennials productive workers from day one. They like to create new titles as a sense of empowerment, such as chief knowledge officer or chief innovator. This shouldn’t be taken as entitlement, Vinze says.
What could be a big plus in this economic slowdown is Gen Y’s ability to multitask and seek creative solutions to everyday problems, adds Julie Smith David, an associate professor at W.P. Carey.
Gen Y is also interested in working with older employees who can serve as mentors and foster the capabilities of this future generation of leaders.
“My take-away is both older workers and Gen Y have a lot to learn from each other,” Smith David says. Seiden addsthat companies should remain flexible with this “new gen” and realize the old thinking of yesterday does not necessarily apply today.
“This may include such things as flexible work hours and telecommuting,” he says. “Gen Yers want to be challenged. They want assignments that will allow them to ‘show their stuff’ and gain recognition, so providing job opportunities that allow them to do so are important. They want assignments that are challenging, but they want to be trained and provided the tools with which to complete those assignments. Company image is important to them. There appears to be more of an emphasis on working for a good, socially responsible corporate citizen.”