How to realise the potential of Generation Y

HRM 28 Jan 2011

In the generation wars, Generation Y is often thought of as the Generation Me. Classed as always thinking of ways they can better themselves and their situation, these individuals have developed a reputation for being difficult to manage and quick to change jobs. Despite their bad rap, Generation Y have plenty of good qualities as well: they've grown up with technology; they are quick to embrace change; they're ambitious and not afraid to challenge the status quo.

The youngest generation has a number of qualities that are valuable to any organisation, and if employers can learn how to tap into their motivations effectively, companies can start to harness the unique qualities of Generation Y and plan to meet their own talent goals. A recent study conducted by Mercer and ACCA of Generation Y employees in the finance sector provides some valuable insights into exactly how companies might do this.

The study, called "Generation Y: Realising the potential" is one of the biggest surveys of its kind, taking into account over 3,200 individuals currently in the workforce from 122 countries.

The survey reveals that although Generation Y live up to their reputation for demanding quick and transparent rewards from their employers it also showed the confident and clear vision a Gen-Y professional has in terms of their career - and also where HR can help to realise this vision.

The survey showed that while money and professional growth are still important motivators, the younger worker also seeks an employment brand that embraces their career aspirations and reflects their personal values.

Even more important to Gen Y is having a clear and transparent career development path. While the majority of young finance employees surveyed were satisfied with their current role today - they're concerned about the future. Half of those surveyed suggest their organisation is not able to offer them sufficient career development opportunities. Additionally, over half of young finance professionals seek to use their finance training in broader business careers.

This highlights the importance of looking beyond monetary rewards as part of the employee value proposition, and ensuring that career development, learning and other benefits are integrated into the organisational culture. Managing the career expectations of Gen Y and being transparent about career development will be key to delivering on career promises and should begin with early, open dialog to create a better understanding your employees' long term aspirations.

It also throws down a challenge to many organisations,  who, in this competitive environment, will need to find new ways to attract and retain younger workers and prove their worthiness as an 'organisation of choice' or risk losing out on key talent.

Money and lifestyle matter
Salary remains of key importance to this age group, however Gen-Y also want a good overall package - this includes good money, work-life balance, working for an attractive brand that reflects their own values.

Unlike many of their workforce predecessors, lifestyle factors actually outweigh salary package factors in attracting younger generations. When surveyed, 68% rated lifestyle factors as very important, compared to only 60% for contractual factors.

HR professionals within the finance sector in particular, will need to ensure they are prepared to meet and manage these expectations as competition for skilled talent in the sector is increasing. This requires greater flexibility from employers and supporting a more productive mix of social and working culture.

Experiential learning and career development
Face-to-face learning still resonates with this generation and they are less reliant on e-learning and social media than may have been previously thought.

When asked to preference their top three learning methods, more than half (64%) of Generation Y respondents listed experiential learning and face-to-face learning as the most effective tools. This was compared to e-learning, which was listed by only 26% of respondents.

While both parties are eager for the employee to gain their qualifications, the challenge can be in quantifying and documenting the learning achieved though experiential learning and demonstrating that it has supported the individual's broader career plan.

HR professionals need to encourage organisations to develop a wide range of learning activities to engage this generation successfully, with experiential learning at the centre of any strategy to support career development.

Be attractive, be different
Gen Y finance professionals overwhelmingly feel that career development and learning opportunities are the primary factors that influence their decision to join a  particular organisation, with 73% of participants stating their career development and learning opportunities were 'VERY IMPORTANT' in selecting an employer.

This highlights the importance of being transparent and encouraging open dialogue about career progression. It's also important to share the bigger picture with younger workers, who are keen to know how their current position and organisation fits in with their aspirations. Gen Y are more likely to stay put in a role that offers some means to achieving their long term goals. So it follows that career development needs to be at the heart of an organisation's employee value proposition, particularly to attract and retain Gen Y.

The 'Generation Y: Realising the potential' report shows a generation of young finance professionals seeking aspirational and dynamic career paths, both inside and outside traditional mainstream finance careers.  And given the Australian economy weathered the global financial crisis storm quite well, there is a degree of stability in the financial services industry and the continuing buoyant environment will no doubt increase the demand for young talent.

This is an 'über' confident generation, who value security, but who are equally prepared to walk away if their career path is not being delivered. They are a demanding generation to manage, but if employers can offer them interesting careers, and get the career proposition right, this generation can offer a wealth of untapped talent that is waiting to be unleashed.

About the author

Rob Bebbington is leader of Mercer's Human Capital consulting business

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