What does Gen Y want?

Alec Marsh finds out how to attract, retain and engage the gifted employees of Generation Y

If Baby Boomers defined themselves by what they did from nine to five, then Generation Y, those born between 1980 and 2000, evaluate themselves by what they do after 5pm. That’s according to Jason Dorsey, author of Y-Size Your Business.

That said, Mr Dorsey rejects claims that his peer group are slackers. “Gen Ys really want to be successful,” he insists. Rather, Ys or Millennials, as they are also known, are mostly “delayed traditionalists”, so similar to previous generations in aspirations, but just three to five years behind in their life stage, typically because they spent longer in education.

His advice for recruiting is to craft job descriptions in terms of challenges, not responsibilities. “Tell us the three challenges that we’ll have to overcome in the first year,” he says. “That gets us much more excited.”

This is something for all employers to think about, given that scarcity of talent is rated as the second biggest challenge facing UK business.

Next, Mr Dorsey says, is to get off on the right foot. “Recognise that the first day is the most important day for Gen Ys because they decide on the first day if they can stay somewhere long term.” Avoid Mondays, he suggests, and give your starter a “peer tour” by someone of similar age and gender.

Then, he says, “spell out what success looks like with specific examples” and remember that Ys are visual learners. “Ask yourself, how much does your training feel like a YouTube video?”

Apparent contradictions aside, Mr Dorsey rejects the stereotype that Ys are obsessed with technology – it just needs to be “fairly up to date” – but they do desire flexibility. “Given the choice between earning a little extra money or getting off work three hours earlier on a Friday, they uniformly opt for three hours off work,” he says.

And feedback is vital. “In the past, if your boss was talking to you, you were doing something wrong, but for Gen Y it’s the opposite,” he says, recommending “ten seconds a month” instead of the annual review.

TOP GRADUATE EMPLOYERS

As head of student recruitment at Big Four accountant PwC, Richard Irwin, probably knows more about hiring Millennials than anyone else. For 11 years running, students have voted his firm number one in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers list. Annually his team of 45 hires 1,600 graduates and 800 undergraduate interns. So what’s their secret?

Gen Ys want to be valued, feel their voice is heard and also look for public recognition of their achievements

First, he says, it’s not about generation theory – which he rejects – it’s about treating people as individuals and putting “opportunity at the heart of everything we do”. That means recruitment is not about selling. “It’s an opportunity to properly engage with us and understand the opportunities we can offer, and make an informed decision about whether that’s right for them and their aspirations,” he says.

PwC engages youngsters while they’re at school and university with courses and placements, so some have been involved with the firm for up to four years by the time they join.

Generation Y statistics

For Mr Irwin, attracting and then engaging Ys is about talent development and progression. “We tell them about the development and professional qualifications that we can put them through, and the mentorship opportunities they’ll get, and we show them successful career pathways in the firm right through to eventual partnership, ten to twelve years out.”

This fits with the conclusions of Sue Honoré and Dr Carina Paine Schofield at Ashridge Business School. They advise hiring Millennials on personality fit. “There’s been such an emphasis on education that employers have been missing out on the best people,” cautions Ms Honoré.

The secret then is to hold on to them. Their research shows that 57 per cent of Ys plan to leave their jobs in two years with training and the “scaffolding” to build their careers – what Mr Dorsey calls “stretch projects”. Secondments and structured sideways moves can help, but so is being open to letting people to go if they want. Then you should keep them in your network and hire them back later.

Another tip is two-way mentorship by pairing up your Y with an older colleague. “Gen Ys want to be valued and feel their voice is heard,” says Ms Honoré. “They also look for public recognition of their achievements.”

Mr Dorsey concludes: “We don’t need hand-holding. We just need to feel like you’re setting us up for success.” Something which ought to be good news for everyone concerned.