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Generation Y: Implications for the workplace

By Beth Pearson -

A client recently asked us to present to a group of CIOs from their enterprise customers.  What implications, they wanted to know, does Generation Y have for the workplace?

Defining Generation Y

First, let’s define Generation Y.  That’s not as easy as it sounds.  Generations have ‘fuzzy edges’ so it’s not always clear where they start and end.  Some definitions of Generation Y include anyone born from the late 1970s all the way up to the early noughties.  However, there is general consensus that Generation Y includes those born from the early 1980s up until the mid-nineties, i.e. aged from around 18 to their early 30s.

Why is everyone of this age grouped together?  Well, the theory holds that during our formative years (usually teens) our values and beliefs are shaped by two influences:

  • Our micro-environment:  Those things going on around us which are unique to us, e.g. our family environment
  • Our macro-environment:  Things happening in the wider world, e.g. the economy, cultural events

As Generation Y grew up with the same macro-environment, they have drawn similar conclusions about how the world works.

The Four Cs that shaped Generation Y

Generation Y’s world-view has been shaped by the four Cs:

  • Connectivity:  Generation Y have always been hyper-connected and bombarded with information.  They’re from an age where the internet, mobile and social media were normal.  They’re also from an age where information has never been so freely available
  • Conflict:  Generation Y has grown up with almost constant conflict as the norm.  There have been two wars in Iraq, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and acts of terrorism closer to home
  • Conspiracy: Generation Y has learned that those in positions of power shouldn’t be trusted by default.  Politically they’ve seen Clinton lie about the Lewinsky affair.  In the corporate world they’ve seen Enron, Worldcom and most recently the banking crisis.  And of course, Wikileaks continues to reveal the hidden workings of the world
  • Cuddled:  Generation Y have often been raised in an educational system which has sheltered them from risk and reinforced the idea that ‘we’re all winners’

The six traits of Generation Y

These experiences have led Generation Y to share six traits:

  1. High expectations:  Generation Y wants life to be fulfilling and stimulating
  2. Instant gratification:  Generation Y are impatient and want everything now
  3. Challenging:  Generation Y speak up and challenge the status-quo
  4. Technologically adept:  Generation Y embrace technology and find new uses for it
  5. Expert assimilators:  Generation Y easily makes sense of diverse and rapid information flows
  6. Fluid thinking:  Generation Y are happily to think tangentially and iteratively

But don’t forget that this is a stereotype.  Not all members of Generation Y will display these traits and members of other generations ca­n also display them.

Six ways Generation Y differs at work

Let’s return to that original question.  What implications does Generation Y have for the workplace?

There are many implications, but six are most significant:

  1. They want work to be stimulating.  To progress their personal development
  2. They want a tribe.  To buy into a common vision and feel part of something special
  3. They want to feel valued.  To be given constant feedback and rapid progress in a meritocracy
  4. They want to challenge.  To be given the right to challenge the status quo and be listened to
  5. They want flexibility.  To balance work and life, and to focus on the result not process
  6. They expect the latest technology.  To have the same tools at work as at home

This all means that Generation Y needs to be managed differently and care taken to avoid unhealthy conflict with other generations.  Do it well, and the potential of Generation Y will be unleashed for the benefit of your organisation.  Now that’s sick.

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