by Amy Lynch — Despite their reputation for being pampered, a close look at the Generation Ys (a.k.a. Millennials) in your company may reveal more pragmatism than privilege. Recent surveys reveal that since 2006 Millennials have become more realistic about job expectations. In fact, Gen Ys have the lowest expectations of all four workforce generations when it comes to “soft” workplace benefits, such as a pleasant work environment, liking the people they work with, or having flexible hours. Here’s why.
Few of today’s 20-somethings escaped childhood free of financial worries. The oldest Millennials were born in 1980, right after the Japanese finished eating our industrial lunch and just in time to learn the new verb “downsizing.” Millennials were toddling off to preschool in 1984 when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics first began to record worker displacement in response to widespread layoffs. They were in elementary school when their families experienced 1987’s Black Monday and the recession of 1991. During junior high and high school, they watched the dotcom bubble go full cycle from boom to bust. Then came Enron and 9/11 —and all of this before the economy began its current vertiginous dive.
Generation Ys have never experienced a sustained period of financial prosperity, and they have no memory of job security. They don’t even expect social security to be there for them. In one study, young adults said they believed they were more likely to see an alien spacecraft than ever to receive a social security check.
Then there’s debt. Median credit-card debt for low- and middle-income Millennials is US$8,200. The average college debt for recent grads is more than $20,000 and rising. About half of all college grads go home to live with mom and dad for about a year after they leave school. Cheap rent beckons.
How will they respond?
Given all that, how will the 20-somethings in your company respond to today’s economic climate? Given their history, they won’t exactly be surprised if you have difficulties or have to lay people off…but they might just be the LAST employees you should lay off during hard times.
According to Willliam Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of Generations: the History of America’s Future, history runs in cycles, and so the United States has been experiencing a crisis. Here’s the good news: a generation that rises to the occasion. Like the Greatest Generation that fought World War II, Millennials, say Strauss and Howe, are destined to take this crisis in stride.
What epic qualities will many Gen Y-ers bring to business during tough times? Try optimism and hard work. You’d expect a generation raised on insecurity to be cynical like the Generation X-ers who preceded them, but that’s not true. Prodigious volunteers and politically active (look at the record numbers who voted in this election), 20-somethings tend to bring can-do confidence to big problems. If you think of this group as trust fund babies, think again. In 2006, 37 percent of Ys between the ages of 16 and 19 held jobs.
Employing Y-ers For Better & Best
On the whole, America’s nearly 80 million Gen Ys may weather this crisis to emerge on the other side as smarter business people, cannier entrepreneurs, and better bosses and employees.
If that’s the outcome you’d like to see from the Gen Ys you employ, share information with them freely. Don’t let them hear news about your business or your industry from anybody else first. Info is the air Millennials breath. They respond to lots of info, even bad news, with trust. And trust creates loyalty.
Heavily scheduled and conditioned to achieve since childhood, Gen Y employees are natural multi-taskers, well-prepared to handle extra work. Tell the young people in your firm that it’s time to be entrepreneurial inside the organization. Ask them to show you how they can be useful and what extra projects they can take on. Expect them to rise to the challenge, and many of them will.
Be prepared to follow their lead. Because they’re so heavily networked, Millennials are the people most likely to scout out new trends, ideas, and markets first. Charge your Ys with finding solutions that will see your business through the crisis.
Finally, put your mentoring programs on steroids. Link Millennials with Greatest Generation veterans and your most experienced Baby Boomers. These powerful pairings with professionals who have seen hard times before will enhance loyalty among the Gen Y talent you want to retain at a time when you need it most.
Millennials worry a lot about having enough. In fact, financial security is the top Millennial career-related worry. As previously stated on average, college grads owe US$20,000 in student loans. And Ys make 25 percent less in inflation-adjusted dollars than young people did in 1974.
What this means for employers:
- When Ys negotiate for higher salaries, don’t assume the request stems from arrogance. Wages that seem astronomical to older generations may simply reflect the amount required in today’s dollars for a young person to pay off debt, plan for layoffs, and save for retirement.
- If you want the best talent, offer packages that are just a little above industry and regional norms. Studies show that Ys look for salary, benefits, and location first. Other factors come into play only after a candidate determines that your compensation package meets or exceeds the standard.
- Tie compensation to results. Ys tend to be attracted to opportunities to drive up their compensation. For example, if the standard is 10 units per hour in a manufacturing setting, you might offer a bonus for every hour an employee exceeds that standard. Similar methods work in sales. Ys can be motivated to put in extra effort if they know an increase kicks in when they serve higher-than-ordinary numbers of customers.
- Got a Y who’s a star? Find out when s/he is due to pay off college debt. The day a Millennial pays off his college loans, s/he becomes more likely to job hop. Make sure that the Ys you value get offers from you they can’t refuse during this high-jump period.
Preparing for Generation Z
Did you hire teenagers for the summer season? Looking at the latest crop of high-school graduates for long-term positions? You’ve begun the journey into the land of Generation Z, the group that follows Generation Y. Born roughly between 1994 and 2005, the oldest Gen Zs are now 16.
Teams vs. Individuals
Historians have found that generations cycle. Team-oriented generations, such as Generation Y, are generally followed by individualistic generations. For Generation Y, childhood was structured and team-based. They had parents, coaches, and teachers telling them what to do all the time. Naturally, they became rule-followers and good students. They remain close to their “helicopter” parents.
Zs, however, are more likely to be individualistic and self-directed, much like we’ve seen with Generation X (people now in their 30s and early 40s).
For one thing, parenting styles have changed. The parents of Gen Zs (Ys and young Xs) are less focused on parenting. Independent self-discovery is more important in childhood today than it was 10 years ago. Parents aren’t spending excessive amounts of time and money taking kids to special enrichment classes and advanced sports competitions. They are spending time at home instead—and so are the kids. Unlike Ys, today’s children and high schoolers have chunks of unstructured time for self-discovery and self-direction.
Management tip: You’ve probably found yourself urging a Y to step out on his or her own and take individual initiative outside the team. As a manager, look to Gen Z for the pendulum to swing. Let them go, keeping in mind that in three years, you may find yourself reigning Gen Zs back in at work, reminding them to work with the team.
Growing up during uncertain economic times is taking a toll on Generation Z. A recent survey by Harris Interactive found 30 percent of Generation Z students say they worry about family financial difficulties, and 36 percent say they worry more this year than last. What you may find as a manager is that Zs will come to work with less sense of entitlement than generations that grew up during flush economic times.
And they’ll work fast. Not long ago a manager told me he was struggling to keep up with his new accountants. “New hires used to take 18 months to finish training,” he said. “These new kids finish in 10.” He was talking about Ys. Imagine what the Zs will do. Studies indicate that Gen Zs’ brains are wired from early childhood to respond to electronic stimulation. They move through online information at warp speed. Some neuroscientists argue that the human brain may be changing faster today than it has since the prehistoric discovery of tools.
One more factor that may make a difference in the caliber of new hires in coming years is the neuro-enhancer. Today, well-to-do kids at in high schools and colleges experiment with ADHD drugs in off-label ways to be more focused and get homework done. If neuro-enhancers become available to more people, sociologists say these drugs may bring up the base-line cognitive abilities of under achievers. If so, a wider range of people in the workplace would be able to do cognitively challenging jobs. If you think Gen Y is confident about being better at processing information than older people, think how the workplace will be when the next generation is even faster!
Author, speaker, and entrepreneur Amy Lynch works with organizations to craft solutions using multi-generational talent. To learn more about engaging Generations Y and Z in your company, contact Amy at amy@GenerationYexpert.com; phone, 615-944-6140; or visit www.GenerationYexpert.com.