6 tips to engage Gen Ys at work

By Paul Slezak - Jul. 11, 2012
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Gen Y, managing Gen Y, Generation Y at workThey use social media during working hours, they don’t expect to stay with your company for long and they need lots of TLC to keep them happy.

So why would you employ a Gen Y?

Because in just a few short years, they will comprise half of the entire workforce in the Western world.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Gen Ys are going to play a big role in the future success of your business, so now’s a good time to learn what makes them tick and how to get the best out of them in the workplace.

Gen Ys  can be broadly characterised as:

Tech savvy – the internet and mobile devices are their toys, which is why they are also sometimes known as Net Gens.

  • Itinerant – the Australian Bureau of Statistics predicts that Gen Ys will work 29 jobs across five different industries during their careers.
  • Socially connected – they use social media constantly and view work as a social outlet.
  • Easily bored – they are used to being entertained by different media simultaneously, so they look for constant stimulation in the workplace.
  • Needy – they require constant feedback and reassurance, which can mean high maintenance.
  • Celebrity-obsessed – they want what their idols have and believe they can achieve it. They view their job with you as a mere stepping stone on the way to their dream job.
  • Self-absorbed – from Day One they will think they can do your job better than you can.

If all this sounds discouraging, it isn’t meant to be and obviously, you can’t stereotype an entire generation in this way. There will be exceptions to the rule, but, by and large, expect to see at least some of these traits in your Gen Y workforce.

6 tips for engaging Gen Ys at work:

1: Involve them

Gen Ys like being part of a team. They are constantly consulting with friends and colleagues, so use that need for teamwork to involve them in work-related activities. Encourage them to share their ideas, which are their strongpoint. Not all may be good, but they can sometimes bring a fresh perspective to an old problem.

2: Give them feedback

Gen Ys crave feedback and this is not a bad thing. Use this to provide constructive criticism when it is required and give them goals to aspire to.

3: Give them flexibility

Gen Ys are the ‘mobile’ generation, who can work anywhere, any time. They don’t care for being stuck in an office cubicle from nine to five (well, who does, really?), so allow them some flexibility. If they need a few hours off to go somewhere, let them go. As long as they are prepared to work longer hours when the heat is on (and they usually will do so willingly if immersed in a project), then it all evens out in the wash.

4: Stimulate them

Companies like Microsoft and Google know all about managing Gen Ys. They provide a stimulating work environment that is a cross between work and home, with areas for rest, play, interaction and solitude, which employees are encouraged to use as they see fit. Their employees work longer hours, but because it doesn’t all seem like work, they are happy to do so and are more creative because of it.

5: Give them deadlines

Gen Ys are not good at time management or working towards long-term goals. They are the ‘cram the night before the exam’ generation, so set them lots of small deadlines that they can achieve.

6: Offer them growth

Gen Ys have high expectations of you and of themselves. They want to learn and, if they feel they are learning what they need to advance, then they will soak it up gladly.

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66% of Gen Ys surveyed felt progression was the main motivation for looking for a new job and 85% believed a clear plan for future development was the main reason to remain with a current employer.

While giving them all this attention and freedom will hopefully encourage Gen Ys to remain and grow with your company, you must still set some boundaries beyond which they may not go.

Just like a teenager, they will take a mile if you give them an inch, so establish the ground rules at the beginning and explain why those boundaries exist. If they understand why, then they will usually comply.

If all this sounds like a How To book on Coping with the Terrible Teens, it kind of is. ‘Extended adolescence’ is a term often used in association with Gen Ys and some of the techniques suggested here are no doubt recommended for dealing with adolescents.

So get ready! As a recent article in Business Week stated, ‘If you thought you saw a clash when Generation X came into the workforce, that was a fake punch. Watch out!’ Gen Y is on the rise and coming to a workplace near you!

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.


Paul Slezak

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.

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