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Millennial bug

Published on Friday, 14 Jun 2013
Lance Richards and Virginia Choi say employers need to understand the ‘generational glue’ that binds Gen Ys.
Photo: Edward Wong

New approach needed for Gen Y staff who prefer web to sex

How do you engage a generation of workers that is more interested in surfing the internet than dating or having sex?

This is one of the questions that need to be answered by today’s managers, who are increasingly facing a multi-generational workforce dominated by so-called millennials or Generation Y. This is according to HR experts at the recent “Managing Multi-generational Workforce Forum”, organised by the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM).

“Our research has been very clear. The war for talent has ended. Talent won, and we as employers have lost,” said Lance Richards, vice-president of the Office of Innovation at Kelly Services. “The supply-and-demand equation for talent today is upside down for the first time since the great plague of Europe in the 1400s. To be clear, we don’t have a shortage of people. We have a shortage of talent.”

Richards is also an instructor for the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) global HR certification preparation course and co-author of The Leadership Deficit – Recruiting and Retaining the Multi-generational Workforce. His presentation was derived from core research over the past two years that seeks to understand Gen Y, including the results of the 2012 Kelly Global Workforce Index survey of 160,000 people, including 45,000 Gen Ys in over 30 countries.

Richards believes there is an urgent need to rethink the general approach to Gen Y. Citing two recent studies, he revealed that surfing the internet has become the favourite pastime of Gen Ys over most of the world.

There are exceptions – such as France – but in the first study, 37 per cent of Gen Y said they preferred surfing the web compared to 18 per cent who preferred to have sex. Likewise, in the second study, 40 per cent favoured being on the internet compared to only 13 per cent who would rather meet people face-to-face on a date.

Richards said it was important for employers and managers to understand Gen Y’s generational glue – what holds them together and what causes them to think and act in a similar way. He also urged managers to embrace the multi-generational workplace setup and to think of new ways to entice out good performances.

A multi-generational workplace requires transgenerational solutions, Richards said. “It’s going to require change. If we don’t, we’ve got problems. We need our Gen Xers and our baby boomers. Every time one of your baby boomers or silent generation retires, you are letting legacy knowledge walk out the door – something none of us can afford,” he said.

Richards believes that managers have to begin to embrace the fact that each generation has its own distinct attitude and work style, because they need to use those different mindsets and ways of thinking. “We know, and this is backed up by academic research, that diverse teams perform much better than homogeneous ones. Yet we still build teams around very homogeneous groups,” he said.

He explained that “there are not enough Gen Xers to go around. The net effect of this is that we’re going to put our Gen Ys into managerial and leadership positions more than 10 years sooner than we would have done 20 years ago. Do we have the training and development infrastructure in our companies to manage that?”

Meanwhile, Virginia Choi, managing consultant and country manager of Tamty McGill Consultants, presented the Hong Kong perspective on the characteristics and preferences of Gens Y and Z in the workplace.

Choi’s team has been conducting a survey on Gens Y and Z since January 2010. She described Gen Y as “very creative and self-centred, but also proactive and very honest”.

Among the many findings in her research she has found that for Gen Y, money and benefits are the primary consideration when they are looking for a job, followed by a clear and achievable career path. Non-working Gen Ys with degrees, however, ranked interests and fun as the main attributes they want in a job, with money coming in second.

As part of her 10 recommendations on dealing with Gen Y, Choi challenged companies to re-examine their core values, such as how they deal with money, work ethics and work values. “Work is only part of a Gen Y’s life. It is not their whole life,” Choi said. “They must be rewarded every day with small gifts and constant feedback.”

Examples of best practices in managing and engaging Gen Y cited by Choi include putting videos of the CEO talking on the company homepage; urging employees to join volunteer programmes; implementing a step-by-step career path; and remembering their birthday.

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