Anatomy of a Gen Y-er

Guy Logan analyses the make-up of the Generation Y employee

More Generation Y articles


Younger workers are not quite as obsessed with work as their older colleagues, according to a recent study by the Families and Work Institute. John McCallum, professor and  researcher at the University of Manitoba in Canada, says necessity has driven Gen Y-ers to learn to juggle skills, goals and projects to create the optimal work-life balance, and a hard-headed approach by employers questioning their priorities won’t help anyone.

What HR needs to do: Encourage line managers to ease off trying to micro-manage Gen Y employees’ time and approach, and view flexible working as a positive thing.


Research by map-maker Ordnance Survey found two-fifths of Gen Y employees work in the evenings if necessary, while 34% will work at weekends and one-fifth also use ‘travel time’ for working, indicating a dedication to getting the job done, regardless of the cost to time or social life. This drive to ensure work is completed will help all employees involved, says Ron Zemke. “This new wave of workers will combine the teamwork ethic of the ‘baby boomers’ with the can-do attitude of the ‘veteran’ generation and technological savvy of Gen X-ers.”

What HR needs to do: Ignore all the horror stories you’ve heard. Gen Y-ers are prepared to work hard if the responsibilities and rewards are clearly outlined.


A survey of 11,244 people by Leadership IQ found Gen Y-ers were often the least motivated at work, which experts say is a failure of managers to recognise that younger workers require praise. Pampering parents and political correctness aside, Mark Murray, chief executive of Leadership IQ, says positive reinforcement makes a difference to motivation. “It’s not like they’re asking for a million dollars. The reality is they need much more praise and attention than previous generations, but it’s pretty cheap and easy to do.”

What HR needs to do: Allow for greater dialogue between employees and managers, both for positive reinforcement and constructive criticism.

High expectations

Three-quarters of Gen Y-ers believe it’s ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ to be very well-off financially, according to the Higher Education Research Institute, and they’re nor afraid to get their hands dirty to increase their bank balance. “They walk in with high expectations for themselves, their employer, their boss,” says Bruce Tulgan, co-author of Managing Generation Y. “Gen Y-ers will absolutely do grunt work, but they just want to know, ‘OK, I did all this grunt work what do I get?'”

What HR needs to do: Help them to understand the importance of their work in the overall scheme, and what benefit there is for them and the company.

Lovers of technology

This is a generation which spends more time online than in front of a television, which has never known life without a mobile phone, and in which nine out of 10 own a personal electronic device. Charles Golvin, analyst at Forrester Research, says employers can’t separate work from life using old definitions. “Previous generations use technology when it supports a lifestyle need, while technology is so deeply embedded into everything Gen Y-ers do that they are truly the first native online population.”

What HR needs to do: Don’t see social network,ing instant messaging, and so on as distractions, but trust employees to use them productively.


Raised by parents believing in the importance of self-esteem and confidence, Gen Y-ers aren’t afraid to say what they think or make demands. Almost 90% of HR professionals say Generation Y employees exhibit a sense of entitlement that older generations don’t. Karen Cates at Monmouth University says this might not be a bad thing. “What young workers want isn’t so different from what everyone else wants, or has wanted over the years. But young workers are the ones actually asking for it.”

What HR needs to do: Get them to justify demands for flexible working or technology upgrades. What they’re saying could make sense for all employees.


The roots of Gen Y-ers do not go deep, but they are widespread. According to Bruce Tulgan, co-author of Managing Generation Y, they practise a whole new brand of loyalty. A study by the Chartered Management Institute found less than one in 20 respondents strongly agreed there was no point in being loyal to an organisation. “They’re very loyal, just not the kind of blind loyalty you get in a kingdom – blind loyalty to the hierarchy. If you don’t trust the system to take care of you in the long run, you walk in the door looking to your immediate boss to take care of you in the short term,” says Tulgan.

What HR needs to do: Focus on the short-term benefits, like reducing long-term fixed pay in favour of increasing variable performance-based pay.

Comments are closed.