Generation Y Employees -- What Defines and Drives Them

Last Updated: Sep. 1, 2015

August 31, 2015 | By Jim Matthewman

Times change as technology evolves, and in the past few decades we have witnessed a second industrial revolution, if you look at the technological achievements that have affected our day to day lives.

This implies a change in human perception and behaviour. We call it evolution. All these changes determine the main patterns of a generation.

This is the era of the millennials, or Generation Y. In October 2004, researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss defined the group as “those born in 1982 and approximately the 20 years thereafter”. In 2012, they affixed the end point as 2004. Generation Y is defined by “the eager to grow”. They are highly educated and competitive. Born in the era of internet and high-speed communication, these individuals are used to working at a fast pace, are at ease with sourcing information and highly adaptable when it comes to change.

Main characteristics of Generation Y

Gen Y grew up with technology, so being connected and tech savvy is in their DNA. Equipped with the latest technology and gadgets such as iPhones, laptops and tablets, Generation Y is online and connected 24/7, 365 days a year. Many millennials grew up seeing their baby boomer parents working day and night doing stressful corporate jobs, which has shaped their own views on the workforce and the need for work-life balance.

Millennials are the inquisitors, with a curious approach to everything. They are not afraid to ask questions and they are confident when giving answers. This is the generation that cannot waste its time on hierarchical protocol and tends to treat everybody the same, from their most senior leader to the clerk. And they expect the same type of treatment in return.

Teamwork is high on the agenda of Generation Y. Regular team meetings and collaboration with colleagues is preferred. Generation Y wants to be involved and included. They expect openness and transparency from management and colleagues and seek this team-player mentality in an organisation.

Because of their modern approach, they will question their leaders’ old ways of doing business. They are highly productive and will challenge the ways of their superiors if the messages are not consistent.

Millennials are as likely as other generations to believe that employees should do what they are told at work – but that does not mean that they will not question what they are told to do. They are fine with changing their job if they feel like they can no longer confide in their leaders or their values are no longer in line with their company, and they feel very comfortable with changing their location within the company as well.

Importantly, the concept of organisational loyalty needs to be put into context of other workplace attitudes. Towers Watson found that employees of all ages who feel supported by their organisation and their supervisor are also more likely to feel committed to their organisation.

How to attract and retain millennials

There is no arguing that millennials are the best-educated generation so far, but if we look at the American and European labour markets at the moment, many of them are still struggling because of the economic environment they started their careers in. A master’s degree from a high-quality university is a much more important factor for a millennial’s career than for any prior generation. Moreover, in the context of an economic crisis, the effect of education is undeniable.

According to the Towers Watson Talent Management and Rewards 2014 survey, in the UAE in particular, millennials are motivated by career-advancement opportunities, challenging work and job security. For them, the focus is shifting from base pay to career advancement as the main attraction driver. However, the size of their paycheque remains the most important retention driver. On this basis, attracting and retaining key employees in the Middle East has become increasingly difficult.

Accelerated leadership programmes would be an effective tool in retaining them. High-potential employees can be identified by subjecting them to challenges where they will be stretched and assigning them responsibilities outside of their comfort zone to determine whether they can be developed further into future leaders.

Succession planning and development programmes are key tools for spotting bright young talents. This practice creates opportunities for highly competitive employees, feeding millennials’ need for growth and development.

Ultimately, employees expect their companies to provide a road map to success. In training Generation Y, managers should support the efforts of their employees through a coaching and enabling approach rather than the sanctioning and directing route. The multicultural context in this region should also be taken into consideration, as both western and Arabic leadership styles translate into different managerial patterns.