Generation Y: 6 Key Facts


Yesterday I sat as part of an expert panel at a Diversity & Inclusion event KPMG put on looking at the challenges ‘Five Generations in the Workplace’ will create for organisations in the near future. I was invited to take part in order to share my experiences of career coaching individuals in their 20s/early 30s (known as Generation Y or Millennials), and also my own perspectives as a member of Generation Y.

Over the last of couple of years, I have made it my mission to share with organisations the key frustrations my clients experience with their managers, and the companies they work for. It is a brilliant thing when corporates actively seek out this knowledge in an attempt to better understand this generation, and do what they can to improve their employees' experiences of the workplace. More and more organisations are starting to realise that with four (and the fifth one coming soon) generations now working side by side, one size does not fit all. If they are to retain their junior talent, ultimately their leaders of the future, they need to understand what Generation Y want from the people they work with, and for.

The first question put to the panel at the KPMG event asked why should we bother to understand the differences between the generations? As above, for me the most obvious reason is because you want to retain the junior talent you have so heavily invested in. The second reason is that, somewhere along the line, I’d like to see managers and organisations take more responsibility for the happiness and job satisfaction of it’s employees. No more of this ‘like it or lump it’ attitude that can arise when jobs are highly competitive with wannabe candidates lining up at the door, ready to replace any Millennial not happy with their job. I’d like to see more managers caring about their employees' welfare, how they are, and whether they are happy at work.

I expect a lot from a manager, which may be because I am a Millennial myself, often labelled as demanding, with unrealistic expectations, but I don’t see a need for attention, compassion, understanding, and curiosity from my manager as too much to ask for from the person you are working for on a daily basis. After all, if leaders are paid more because they are responsible for managing and appriasing team members, then perhaps more should be expected from them as a result. A world where a manager’s pay was determined by the happiness rating of their team members…now there’s an idea!

6 Key Facts

Why bother to understand Generation Y?

As part of the prep for the KPMG event, I pulled together three key points to support the above rationale for seeking to understand Generation Y better at work. These were:

  • Three out of four 26-28 years olds experience a Quarter Life Crisis. Go easy on them at work during this time; understand that life can be hard enough as it is for this isolated, overwhelmed, confused generation, experiencing an enormous amount of pressure, from all angles, to be the very best they can be.

  • Generation Y will soon make up 70% of your workforce. It therefore pays to understand what they want from you as their manager/employer. What they desire will only be expected by more and more of your workforce so you might as well start listening and adapting now.

  • 57% expect to leave their job in the next two years. Do what you can to hang on to your junior talent, otherwise, in years to come, they may be heading up your biggest competitor and taking that business to success levels you never even imagined.

What do Generation Y need from you?

It's important to understand what Generation Y need from a manager, and the organisation they work for. Here's my top three:

  • A need for purposeful and meaningful work. When it comes to job satisfaction, making a positive contribution to society and people in need has become one of the main priorities for Generation Y. Point out the impact and purpose of the work your team members are contributing towards. Perhaps consider paid volunteering days if the work is incredibly corporate and offers little to society directly.

  • Work/Life Balance. Despite popular opinion, Generation Y are incredibly ambitious and a possess a huge desire to please their managers and perform well. However, they are not willing to sacrifice their home life as a result. With a big emphasis on flexible working, this generation see their personal commitments towards their own fitness goals, relationships with friends and family, hobbies etc as equally important as their success at work. With YOLO (You Only Live Once) now in the Oxford Dictionary, it's not surprising - Generation Y are well aware that life is too short to slave away at work your whole life. We see our managers chained to their desks, missing important family events, marriages breaking down, answering emails 24/7, and we think, "Well, I certainly don't want their job so I better start looking for a new job elsewhere." Before you know it, your Generation Y talent is jumping ship to a competitor with a more creative and innovative approach to flexible working and work/life balance.

  • A consultative management style, designed to engage, as opposed to a directive, authoritative one. It's much more motivating and empowering for the individual to be part of the decision-making process, as opposed to just being told what to do all the time. Be careful though - 75% of managers think they're fulfilling a consultative coaching role when only 26% of their Generation Y team members agree. Brush up on your coaching skills to hone this approach.

I hope this post helps you understand Generation Y a little more. A workforce made up of four or five generations can't fail to bring together a huge wealth of diversity, creativity, alternative perspectives, and innovation; one much better placed to represent the attitudes and needs of the clients and community the organisation aims to serve. It's time to embrace the little quirks of Generation Y, accept the workplace is changing, and consider now new ways to adapt to the challenges a multi-generational workforce presents.

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.