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Solving the Ten Most Common Generation Y Workforce Challenges

Apr 24, 2008
We are at a very important time in history. Over the next five years, approximately 62 million Baby Boomers, who have helped form our business world for the last 20 years will be retiring. As they exit out of the workforce approximately 40 million Gen X, born between 1965 and 1977, and 72 million Generation Y, born after 1977 will fill their shoes. In this day and age, our businesses cannot thrive without young talent. And, if our businesses are not thriving, the economy will become more and more anemic. There is a huge force at play in this equation, and that force is Generation Y.

Many organizations and businesses are asking how they need to change in order to attract and then retain Generation Y. When I answer this question, many people don't seem to like my answer, because my answer is this: If you want to attract young talent into your organization, you will be called to not just change but undergo a metamorphosis that will keep Gen Y interested and excited about working for and with your company. And, if you try to sit on them, keep them or make life difficult, they will leave in a heartbeat.

Many companies wait to change until it's way too late, and the change is painful and causes a great deal of financial and emotional hardship for the company. This article will support you in understanding the challenges many organizational leaders are facing with young talent and a few solutions to support you in building a sustainable future workforce.


Solution: Redesign the organization with the Knowledge Worker as your number One asset.

The future will belong to the companies who embrace knowledge as the number one asset for growth. There is no generation better to fill the role of the knowledge worker than Generation Y. This Generation was born with a cell phone and laptop in their cribs. They have had instant access to massive amounts of information at the touch of a button for the last 15 years of their lives. Companies that thrive in the future will be looking at not only who has the most knowledge but creative methods to capture and leverage tacit knowledge. The Chief Knowledge Officer is going to be one of the most important roles for the future workplace, because he or she will be able to provide your company with honest, unbiased feedback about how your company stands in relationship to your global competitors.


Solution: Cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit of Gen Y.

Generation Y is the most entrepreneurial generation in history. It is not uncommon for members of Gen Y to be working full time for an organization while running a small business or a non-profit organization outside of work. Most Gen Yers will tell you that they see themselves in 2 careers: One that is working for a company or for their own business and one that allows them the time to give back to their community. The need for flexible work hours, the ability to work from home and the opportunity to work as a community volunteer during the work week will increase as Gen Y tries to balance a full time job with their own social and entrepreneurial interests. Employers who embrace this entrepreneurial spirit and support Gen Y in having their own business and giving back to their local and greater community will be much more competitive than employers who don't embrace this notion. These opportunities can expand a company's internal and external network and new ideas will be born as Gen Y brings their best practices from their "other" life back to your organization.


Solution: Provide meaningful work.

Generation Y is the generation who constantly asks "why?" The reason for this is not to irritate you but is asked because they want to know that the work they are doing is creating meaning and is doing something for the world. A little company by the name of Google is a highly sought after company for Gen Y. The reason? The majority of young careerists say that they know that every day, they are doing something that is helping people and changing the world.


Solution: Re-deploy critical talent.

There is one thing that I can say without hesitation and that is that our business landscape is changing and is going to continue changing in the future. Companies are going to be called to frequently re-deploy their young talent. This will be an attractive feature for Gen Y, who loves to job hop. The challenge is to allow them to job hop inside your company, not by moving on to your competitor. Companies like Intuit who offer a rock solid Rotational Development Program to entice Gen Y to come work and play are going to have one leg up in the future.


Solution: Invest in high quality, secure technology.

Generation Y is one of the most technologically savvy generations in history. This is going to help companies improve their efficiency, effectiveness and their level of sophistication. At the same time, because of their tech knowledge, Gen Y will be bringing more hackers, cyber terrorism and the threat of people actively seeking to exploit your system's vulnerabilities into organizations around the world. Budgets will need to be carefully designed to include security as a top priority for a company's well being.


Solution: Design a culture of psychological safety.

Gen Y's innovative spirit will cause disruption in our workforce, and this disruption will be leading to more advances in technology, the economy and society. This in turn will guide organizations in the direction of developing a much needed new frame of thinking for our future workforce. As Gen y comes forward, companies can expect more ideas, more confusion and more expansion in technology, which will create opportunities for what I call "the great debate" in organizations. Companies which offer Gen Y the psychological safety they need to speak up (i.e. Don't Shoot the Messenger) and who welcome open debate will build the collaborative spirit that Gen Y says they want in the companies they serve.


Solution: Drive innovation by building diversity.

Generation Y is the most open and diverse generation in the history of mankind. Innovation requires not only diversity in people but divergent thinking which come from a variety of geographical, cultural, interdisciplinary and intergenerational thought processes. Gen Y will be engaging deeply in global communities, conversation and cultural learning to achieve the mix they need to create a vibrant society and economy. Organizations who shift from a homogenous workforce to one that embraces diversity will build a long-term, sustainable future.


Solution: Increase training and technology to strengthen virtual teams.

As Gen Y enters into the workforce, virtual teams are going to be the common structure for the way work is done. Virtual teams can yield up to travel reduction costs of 50% and can increase employee productivity and morale. At the same time, virtual teams can become a risky strategy unless businesses are committed to making the investment needed in technology and training designed for successful virtual teaming. Web applications such as Facebook, blogs, wikkis, webinar tools, Second Life and online training environments will be key to the success of the virtual team.


Solution: Integrate a mentorship and coaching program into the day in day out job.

Generation Y is the first generation to raise their hands and ask their employers for a mentor or a coach. This generation has a strong need for ongoing feedback about how they are doing, and a mentor or a coach can help fill this need. Senior leaders will play a very important role here. As Gen Y moves into early managerial and leadership positions, Baby Boomers and older Generation X leaders will be asked to step in to provide Gen Y with the coaching they most want. With this new approach, classroom training will become less effective with more emphasis placed on real time training, coaching and feedback. Coach training will be an advantage for senior leaders who are stepping into this role.


Solution: Redesign the organization for simplicity.

Generation Y is saying they are tired of things not working or things being complicated. Their brains have been overloaded with gobs of information and a multitude of choices, and they are begging their employers to stop making things so mind numbing and bulky. They are feeling paralyzed by red tape, employers who make life difficult, proprietary software, clutter and broken equipment. By making things simple for Gen Y at work, you are making their life easier (and simplicity and ease of use are top values for Millennials).

The time is now to begin redesigning your organization. Generation Y is making a tremendous impact on society. It's time to start working with them and stop resisting their effort.
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