Career Advice HR Focus

Y's up

Variously described as idealists, dreamers, a generation that seeks instant gratification - and the most responsive and best-informed employees on the planet - Generation Y individuals are giving employers plenty to think about when it comes to how to attract, engage, manage and retain them.

As Gen Y accounts for an escalating number of employees in Hong Kong's workforce, Bird Yip, general manager of SaaS (software as a service) Greater China at Oracle, believes organisations need to integrate more technology into their talent-recruitment and management strategies.

"Companies need to build their talent pipeline for the future and they can't afford to overlook the connection between Gen Y and their relationship with technology," Yip says. He defines Gen Y individuals as being under 32, based on them graduating from university at 22 and having less than 10 years' experience in the workplace. Other researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the 1980s to the early 1990s.

Yip says that while it is easy to generalise about the differences between generations, Gen Y tends to expect a better work-life balance than the "baby boomer" generation. They also value a collaborative work environment and expect regular performance feedback from managers.

Gen Y staff also expect their employers to embrace technology. This includes during the recruitment stage, such as by being able to submit job applications via their social media profiles, and communicating with colleagues and clients through internal and external social media platforms.

"Gen Y staff have grown up with technology and have a different outlook on the way they communicate and share information," says Yip, who has consulted with more than 400 managers in the Greater China region about Gen Y talent management strategy.

Given Gen Y's technology-centric outlook, Yip says it makes sense for employers to use technology and online tools to foster collaboration and shape career development. Oracle employs more than 100,000 staff across the globe, and Yip says a good example of the use of such tools is its internal social media platform, which allows staff to communicate, collaborate and innovate. Employees are also allowed to use Facebook at work to network and promote business concepts.

By utilising technology, Yip says employers and staff can achieve their talent management objectives. "Once the relevant data has been entered, it is simple for employees and their supervisors to set goals and monitor progress," he says. "Gen Y employees don't want to be stuck in a classroom all day. They prefer to learn online in short bursts during their own time or when not busy at work."

For Spencer Ma, a Hong Kong-based sales consultant at Oracle, it was the firm's use of technology that motivated him to apply for a job. After three years with Oracle, the former in-house food and beverage worker says he enjoys both the freedom and connectivity that mobile technology gives him.

"I can share documents with colleagues in different locations, use our internal social network to communicate with different people, and even check my career performance goals and achievements on a mobile device at any time and in any place," Ma says.

Marc Burrage, regional director of Hays in Hong Kong, says that rather than viewing technology as a tool, technology is part of everyday life for Gen Y. Therefore, outdated technology in the workplace is not viewed positively. He says Gen Y job candidates are attracted to employers that can satisfy their interest for variety and modern technology.

"Gen Y [staff] are technologically savvy and were raised with fast-paced multimedia," Burrage says. "As a result, they are accustomed to fast-paced results and will not consider spending years developing their career. This generation will not start at the bottom by getting the tea and coffee. They look for transparent career opportunities, immediate challenges and with it, recognition."

Burrage also notes that Gen Y staff need to be continually challenged and see a clear path of progression, or they will likely look elsewhere for career opportunities.

To engage and retain Gen Y employees, Burrage suggests that HR managers use internal company intranet pages or social media to communicate with staff. Additionally, Burrage says social media channels are effective ways of providing recognition and rewards to staff.

Roy Tsang, chairman of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Hong Kong, emphasises how technology connects people around the world in ways that were not possible 10 years ago. He says social media is changing the way companies in the finance sector source, attract and engage talent. "The future will not be like the past and we will all need to adapt," he says.

Tsang says an ACCA survey conducted with recruitment consultants Mercer showed a generation of young professionals seeking inspirational and dynamic career paths, both inside and outside traditional mainstream finance careers. "They want the whole package when it comes to their careers - work-life balance, good pay, and an ethical workplace that aligns with their values," he says.

Jane Cheng, head of ACCA Hong Kong, says that ACCA makes use of social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to communicate with the association's students and young members. She adds that a whole range of ACCA digital apps have been launched to offer members and students easy access to a wide range of resources.

"ACCA Hong Kong is ardently nurturing new generations of talent for the industry, and technology is one of the effective ways of engaging with them," Cheng says.