Generation Y’s values Shake Up Corporate Cultures

By Eytan Hirsch Jun 20, 2012
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The work culture is gradually changing in many offices as HR departments learn how to meet the needs and desires of Generation Y, those born between about 1980 and 1995.

According to an April 2011 study by BPW Foundation, Gen Y will make up about 75 percent of the world’s workforce by 2025, yet experts claim that many corporate structures are out of sync with understanding what motivates and engages Millennials.

Gen Y has grown up during a whirlwind of major technological advances, and experts suggest that organizations should not underestimate the importance of the Internet among these technologically savvy job seekers and the value that it can have in workplace functions.

“The workplace is becoming much more open and transparent and much less hierarchical,” Nick Stein, director of content and media at Rypple.com, a social performance management platform, told SHRM Online. “The Internet is a metaphor for that. Companies are realizing that in order to compete in today’s marketplace, it’s no longer possible to do so with a strict hierarchical command-and-control model.”

Stein urges HR professionals to recognize that Gen Y is interested in organizations that are using emerging technologies and various forms of social media to get things done in a more innovative and creative way.

Facebook: The New Telephone

According to the 2011 Cisco Connected World Technology Report, 91 percent of college students have a Facebook account; 81 percent check it every day. This generates the question of whether it is acceptable to use social media programs in the workplace. Stein believes that if HR leaders want to create a welcoming environment for Gen Y, they cannot be too dictatorial about the technology that they allow.

“How are Millennials going to view an organization that is policing their ability to be who they are?” Stein said. “If your boss told you you’re not allowed to call your wife from the office, I think people would view that as being unnecessarily draconian. Facebook has, in many ways, become the new phone. It’s, in many cases, a better way for people to communicate, whether it’s for business or nonbusiness purposes.”

The Desire for Flexibility

Gen Y tends to drift toward organizations that provide them with valuable and stimulating professional development opportunities and flexibility, according to Kevin Sheridan, the senior vice president of Avatar HR Solutions, a Chicago-based organization that specializes in employee engagement and talent management.

“In a gargantuan difference between Baby Boomers and Gen Y, the latter set their career as one element within their life, not the single element that makes their life,” Sheridan told SHRM Online. “Gen Y wants their job to provide personal fulfillment and support a positive work/life balance.”

Gen Y’s desire for more flexible hours is something that is much more feasible today because of the rise of mobile technology. Many young people do not believe it is necessary to be working at the exact same time every day and want the freedom to pursue other activities during traditional work hours, said Carrie Alexander, a senior consultant at independent HR consulting firm Findley Davies.

She believes that smart phones, laptops and other forms of mobile technology popular among Gen Y can aid in balancing work and life and improving efficiency. At the same time, she does not disregard the value of interpersonal collaboration. “I think we will continue to see more flexibility in where and how work is done—and as a result could see a decline in the traditional workplace,” she said. “However, I don’t see it going away entirely, as there continues to be a value and need in face-to-face interaction.”

Stein agreed that, if used properly, technology should not be a replacement for direct collaboration. “There’s a social need among all of us to be together, and I think in many ways, when you are together in the same space, you can be more productive and more effective,” he said. “And it’s a matter of using the technology that we have to enhance that.”

The Need for Feedback

Something else Gen Y thrives on, according to Sheridan, is recognition and instant gratification, which is partly attributable to the fact that they have grown up with social technology and are accustomed to getting frequent feedback. “Gen Y grew up being sheltered by their parents and constantly kept busy as children,” he said. “They work best in a structured environment, where mentors help them improve their skills.”

Often when Millennials come to the workplace, however, they find that they get feedback only once or twice a year. Sheridan advises HR departments to provide feedback on Gen Y’s work performance on a regular basis and set up a structured, supportive workplace atmosphere.

Alexander encourages HR leaders to be aware that Gen Y tends to look for more intrinsic satisfaction in their work than older generations. She recommends that HR directors explain thoroughly to young employees what the company stands for, what it means to work there, how the company benefits customers and what differentiates its employment experience from its competitors.

“Gen Y wants to make a paycheck, of course, but they also want to make a meaningful contribution through their work,” she said. “HR departments should offer volunteer opportunities, wellness programs and other opportunities to allow Gen Y to find meaning in their work and better engage this demographic.”

Eytan Hirsch is a staff writer for SHRM.

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