Make Room for Generation Y

By Aleita Johnson Nov 6, 2008

Companies must do a better job of hiring, appreciating and motivating younger workers or risk being at a competitive disadvantage, according to Robert McGovern, founder and CEO of the career site Jobfox.

In a recent poll conducted by the company, corporate recruiters were asked to rate the four generations currently in the workforce based on their performance level: Generation Y—or those workers 28 years old or younger—was noted as “generally poor performers” by the largest number of respondents.

Only 20.3 percent of the 206 recruiters polled rated Gen Y as “generally great performers.” Approximately 63 percent of respondents rated baby boomers (43-62) asgreat performers, while 58 percent rated Gen X (age 29-42) as such. Only a quarter of respondents rated traditionalists (age 63 and older) as great performers.

McGovern said he believes this technologically advanced generation, sometimes referred to as Millenials, is simply misunderstood and that it is corporate leaders—not this group of workers—who need attitude adjustments.

“It’s not that they are better or worse; they are different,” McGovern told SHRM Online. When Gen Y workers arrive late or want to leave early, people tend to think that they are slackers and don’t want to work, said McGovern. But, they take a different viewpoint on the work schedule, and it is flexibility that they desire.

Addressing Performance Differences

These workers’ views of workplace flexibility often clash with the structured 9-to-5 workplace environment created by the baby boomers. Millenials work best when they can set their own hours to get work done.

Baby boomers often prefer more conventional types of learning and are seen as being highly trained and overall better speakers. In contrast, Gen Y learns more on a trial and error basis.

But technology advances are seen by some to have hindered Gen Y’s communication skills. “Millenials don’t look good doing what they do,” McGovern said. “[They] are much more comfortable in front of a computer instead of in person.”

Still, as more baby boomers retire, Gen Y will become the more dominant presence in the workforce. So companies will need to better understand these generational differences in order to help Gen Y perform at its highest potential.

“Once you begin to understand them, Gen Y is a very impressive group of workers,” said McGovern, who interviewed more than 100 young professionals to write the career advice book Bring Your ‘A’ Game: The 10 Career Secrets of the High Achiever. “Just as we saw workplace changes made to accommodate baby boomers and Gen X, I foresee major changes ahead for companies that want to get the most out of [their] youngest workers.”

One technological adaption corporations can make is to add podcast learning to their training options, suggested McGovern. Podcast learning offers an alternative to lecture-style learning by enabling employees to access just-in-time, on-the-go instruction through their iPod.

Gen Y needs to feel as though their contribution to the workplace matters. They are children of what McGovern calls “helicopter” parents. Always pushed to succeed by their parents, it is important for Gen Y to understand how they have a role in the overall success of the company.

“They won’t be satisfied working in the corporate machine,” McGovern said. “They want to contribute immediately, and companies must do a better job of helping younger workers see how their work is important and how what they do relates to the overall goals of the company.”

With these generational preferences in mind, McGovern predicts that in the future workplace:

  • Leaders will be those capable of processing the most information.
  • Job titles and money will be of less importance.
  • The best presenters will no longer be the ones rewarded.
  • Work schedules will consist of flexible hours.
  • Millenials will need to be prepared to compete on a global scale.

Aleita Johnson is an editorial intern for SHRM.


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