Generation Y team members looking at a computer in an office

Understanding Generation Y in the workplace

People and Culture

When it comes to the workforce, Generation Y remains a force to reckon with.

The U.S. Chamber of commerce defines Gen Y (or Millennials) as those born from 1980 to 1999. And, while Millennials make up 25% of today’s total workforce, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts them at whopping 75% of the workforce by 2030.  

What makes things even more interesting is that Millennials, due to their distinctive attributes, are one of the most misunderstood generations. Society has stereotyped Millennials as confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change. In the work place, Millennials are often perceived as entitled, needy and self-centered. And on a personal level, Millennials are seen as more caring, community-oriented, and politically engaged than previous generations.

However society chooses to label them, the need to understand this generation is imperative. To understand Gen Y is to understand the future of work and innovation.

What makes Gen Y tick? 

As described by Wired magazine, Gen Y doesn’t recall life before the Internet. They live and breathe through their smart phones, sharing their lives over Instagram and connecting with friends and family via Facebook and Twitter. 80% even sleep with their cell phone next to the bed. This generation has also mastered self-expression, with 75% creating a profile on a social networking site, 20% posting a video of themselves online, 38% with one to six tattoos, and 23% with a piercing in some place other than an earlobe. The trend towards personal branding or self-promoting is a rampant attribute of this group.   

This group is also considered “multitaskers extraordinaire.” They are apt to switch tasks quickly. While multitasking is often valued in the workforce, Gen Ys appear to have a greater vulnerability to interference, which can decrease their performance. 

When it comes to diversity, Millennials are one of the most diverse generations, making them more tolerant of races and groups. They are also considered more optimistic despite the many tragic events that have shaped their lives.

Work ethics and work expectations

When it comes to the workplace, Millennials are full of contradictions. They are hungry to climb the corporate ladder; however, they also want to resist hard work. Further, they are interested in leadership positions and expect to advance rapidly in their careers but often prefer job rotation to a more time-demanding job promotion. To Millennials, heavy workloads demand more time beyond the 9 to 5 work day. This further motivates them towards careers that offer work-life balance.  

A few other workplace characteristics include:

  •       A reliance on friends and family when it comes to career decisions
  •       A preference to work in teams and make group decisions 
  •       Frustration with ambiguity and slow processes
  •       A desire for frequent and immediate feedback
  •       Placing a high value on trust and transparency
  •       Expectation of later retirement, having entered the workforce during tougher times

Tapping into Gen Y strengths at work

At TELUS International, we know first-hand that Millennials are a powerful and creative force. In fact, as a BPO customer service organization, 80% of our employee population is Gen Y. Here are a few tips to getting the most from this talented group:

  1. Define their jobs but don’t micromanage: Provide Gen Y with a clearly defined job structure but without micromanaging. Ensure that they know what they need to do (clear expectations and timelines) but that they can tackle the job on their own terms and have their voice heard along the way. 

  2. Look out for them: As Millennials advance their own careers, be sure to provide regular feedback and guidance. It’s important to encourage their self-assuredness and “can do” attitude, while letting them know that someone appreciates and believes in their capabilities.

  3. Take a team approach: Since Millennials love working in teams, take advantage of it; even mentoring, coaching and training them as a team.

  4. Don’t limit them: These super-star multitaskers do not want to be confined to one activity; they need variety in their work, including things that challenge them. Leverage their tech savviness with tools, software and social media. And be sure to give them a voice. Millennials have strong ideas and opinions. Feeling heard keeps them engaged.  

  5. Keep it fun: It’s important to keep employees engaged at work. This means providing outlets for sports, special interest groups, community outreach, and other social avenues both in and out of the office. This builds a community, not just a company, and keeps Millennials wanting to come to work vs. looking for places where the grass is perceived as always greener.

Pleasing this group may require some creative effort but it’s not rocket science. By fostering a work environment that is suitable to this generation’s needs, you can expect superior output and tremendous value from your young, growing workforce.

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