Overview Gen Y workers are becoming the largest segment of America’s
workplace population. The success of our organizations depends on learning how
to recruit, develop, and retain this generation of workers.
By Jill Silman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
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Table of Contents
Who’s who in today’s workplace
Shift to prominence and career expectations
Unlocking the talent of Gen Y: Attracting, motivating and retaining
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The baby boomer generation has been prominent in the workplace for the past couple of decades, because it
encompasses so many people born in the post war years of 1946 – 1964.
Boomers easily assimilated into the existing workplace, adding to its numbers but not making wholesale changes
to the way work was accomplished.
We’re on the edge of a generational shift, however, because the millennial generation, or Gen Y, is moving into
the forefront as boomers begin to retire, and Gen Y has a different set of work expectations. And slowly being
added into the mix is Gen Z. Though currently only making up a small percentage of the workforce, the youngest
in this group is now turning 21, and their influence on our work life will increase in the coming years. Our job
as employers is to understand these workers, so we’re able to attract and retain them to help our businesses
succeed. In the following pages, we’re going to investigate the attitudes of these younger employees and
managers and learn:
• How do they feel about work?
• How closely do they fit our stereotypes about them?
• How do we attract, develop and retain them?
Let’s get going.
Jill Silman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
4 / 13
Born from 1922 to 1945
Born from 1946 to 1964
Who’s who in today’s workplace
Every generation is raised with a unique set of social, family and work values, and the traditional complaint from
older generations is that standards among the young have fallen.
I think it’s more accurate to say that standards have merely changed.
These are the most senior of our workforce employees, and they were born before 1946. Some of them of them
were involved in World War II, and all of them were impacted by the war.
Tough economic times, including the war and the Great Depression of the 1930s, make this group careful and
even frugal with money.
Most come from nuclear families of two parents. Divorce was highly unusual and carried a negative social
stigma. Especially during the war effort, traditionalist parents were likely to both work, whether on the farm
or in the factory, to provide for the family – even the kids could often be found working to contribute to the
These are the children of the traditionalists, born in the years from 1946 to 1964. The economy flourished in
the aftermath of World War II, affording this “space age” generation more freedoms, more education and more
money than their parents had access to when growing up.
In rare instances, Mom may have worked outside the home, but most nuclear families still consisted of two
married parents. The huge post war population swell meant competition for jobs was intense, making many
boomers ambitious workaholics who collected degrees, certifications and letters to string behind their names
on business cards in an attempt to “one-up” the competition. As a group, boomers are motivated, optimistic,
competitive and into interpersonal development.
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Who’s who in today’s workplace (continued)
This is the latch key generation, born in the late 60s to the late 70s. It was common for both parents to work
outside the home or divorce, making this generation typically very independent.
Independence, however, breeds skepticism, and this generation is wary of everything from organizations to other
Cynicism and pessimism are traits of many Gen Xers, who came of age when the U.S. was dealing with losses in
Vietnam, the Watergate scandal and Japanese domination of world industry. They’ve seen religious scandals in the
news and large-scale layoffs that likely impacted their own families. Easy access to education, however, means
this group of workers is highly educated.
The millennial generation was born between the years of 1978 to 1995. They’ve been immersed since birth in
technology, and they’re comfortable and accustomed to using it to connect and stay in touch with coworkers,
friends and family. They’re coming into the workplace with more education than any generation previously.
Divorce, single parenthood and blended families became the norm as this generation matured, making them
tolerant of others and comfortable with diversity. They were praised by their parents for their accomplishments
—and expect the same from their employers—and they were included in decisions from menu choices to
vacation destinations, so they have no qualms about voicing their opinions to any level of seniority at work.
Born from 1965 to 1980
Born from 1981 to 1995
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Translating these standards to workplace behaviors
As you might expect, traditionalists are highly loyal to their employers and respect authority. They feel they
have earned their seniority and the benefits that accompany that.
However, this group is no longer motivated by big salaries and bigger job titles. A large number of traditionalists
works out of choice, either as a social outlet or to supplement retirement income.
Like the generation before them, baby boomers feel that younger workers need to “pay their dues” before
being rewarded with fancy titles and corner offices.
Traditionally motivated by salary and promotion opportunities, this group is reevaluating priorities as they near
retirement. They’re trying to find balance as they’re being squeezed between caring for children and aging
parents and realizing that they can’t be all things to all people.
This group is predicted to live the second half of life much differently than they did the first half, and
organizations realizing the value of their experience and maturity are challenged to find ways to keep boomers
motivated and working.
Gen Xers are looking for work/life balance and don’t want to be micro managed. They have adapted well to
technology and its evolution, and they are self-reliant.
This generation of workers values production over tenure. They want to get the job done on their own terms
and on time. They have a “free agent” mentality, viewing their jobs as contracts as opposed to careers, and this
is likely the most entrepreneurial generation at work today.
Gen Y is motivated by personal fulfillment, and this generation seeks frequent feedback on their work. They
want to feel valued, and they want opportunities to improve their skills now. They have a short attention span,
and feeling that their work benefits society is important to them. They would rather make less money at a job
they love than make a huge salary performing work they find boring or insignificant.
Understanding our generational differences and how we got to the point we’re at today makes it easier to
understand what makes our younger counterparts tick and why we need to adapt for the workplace that’s
going to be dominated by Gen Y in the coming decade.
Prefer private offices, working individually
Accustomed to cubicles and teamwork, but
desire options for privacy
Comfortable working remotely, task-oriented
Prefer open spaces for collaboration, see less
need for offices
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Shift to prominence and career expectations
Gen Y has been celebrated, discussed and dismissed by older workers at length, and whether they deserve it or
not, they’ve been labeled by the workplace as selfish and entitled.
Whenever new generations are on the rise, older generations get nervous. Younger workers bring new ideas
and practices to established customs. More than any previous generation, Gen Y fundamentally challenges our
workplace norms—and expects everyone to support them in their challenge.
Older workers traditionally have expected younger ones to not only settle into sanctioned ways of doing
things, but to embrace the tradition. No wonder Gen Y has gotten such a bad rap.
They expect to move rapidly in their jobs. Organizational loyalty isn’t particularly important to them, and most
have no problem changing employers every couple of years to achieve the fulfillment or freedom they desire.
They’re not as concerned with titles, want to view their bosses as friends and admire knowledge and experience
over position and power. Gen Y expects managers to encourage, coach and mentor them. They want respect and
an open, transparent, warm relationship with their boss.
Fortunately, employers have begun to shed the negative stereotypes heaped on Gen Y and look at the positive
aspects of their rise in the workplace. Employers and managers are finding that Gen Y workers are often hard-
working and career-minded and up for a challenge. They just want to be supported in their efforts.
Gen Y is changing the way work is being performed and changing the behavior of organizations, while
employers are finding that even though the methods seem unorthodox, the work is still being done and done
well. It’s a matter of adjusting to the challenge, because the upcoming generation thrives on innovation and
Having established the need for corporate and organizational adjustments, let’s take a closer look into how
employers should go about attracting and retaining Gen Y.
is most likely to:
• Involve themselves in charitable and
• Foster innovative thinking?
• Make a positive contribution to society?
• Place importance on ethical business practices?
To see if you understand what motivates each
generation, find the correct answers under
“Retaining Gen Y” on page 10.
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Unlocking the talent of Gen Y
Attracting Gen Y
Important factors to attracting millennial workers include career-focused elements like developing new skills.
Working environment, pay and job security, though important, are secondary considerations in challenging and
developing this generation. Considerations for attracting and recruiting include:
1. Financially sound benefits
Gen Y faces considerable financial pressure as the first generation to be slammed with exorbitant tuition,
fees and student loans for higher education, as well as housing cost inflation over the past decade. A high
percentage of this generation remains in rentals or lives at home with parents—a move they find sensible,
but one that boomers and Gen Xers see as failure.
2. Opportunity for learning and self-development
Gen Y takes substantial responsibility for learning to achieve ambitions. Training and development
opportunities are valued in addition to coaching and mentoring. When experiencing coaching and mentoring
from peers and managers, these young workers express a higher level of job satisfaction.
3. Unconventional recruiting methods
Adjust your typical recruiting venues to utilize the technology-based communication that this generation
prefers. Virtual, online events allow them to actively engage with potential employers and get a feel for how
your organization is a fit for them. Video plays into this generation’s love for gaming. Encourage your Gen Y
employees to blog, tweet and talk about their experiences with your company. This resonates as important
authenticity to Gen Y job seekers.
Clearly articulate to Gen Y what your posted
job description and title encompass without
fluff or grammatical and spelling errors. Learn
how to improve your job descriptions to make
an impact on Gen Y candidates by reading our
blog on this topic.
Read blog here
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Motivating Gen Y
Don’t rely on traditional development programs to satisfy the needs of Gen Y. This group wants ongoing
feedback and a personal relationship with managers. Instead of collective training opportunities, they want a
tailored development path that will help them help their organization fulfill its mission. Consider these ways to
motivate your Gen Y workers:
1. Frequent feedback and open communication
The most effective way to enhance creative performance for Gen Y workers is through frequent feedback
and open communication of organizational information. The typical annual performance review doesn’t
engage Gen Y employees like goal-setting and reviews on a frequent, regular basis. They consider social
integration and mobile interaction the norm, though face-to-face interaction is still a must for them,
particularly if it involves constructive criticism.
2. Work hours and location
Don’t write Gen Y off as lazy because they seek a high level of work/life balance. It can actually be conducive
to creativity. Gen Y is comfortable working away from the office—and working weekends, evenings and
during travels. Mixing work life with personal life appeals to them, but they won’t sacrifice their personal
lives for their careers.
3. Mentor vs. manager shift
It’s important to train current managers on how to relate to the Gen Y workforce. Gen Y believes the older
generation has a lot to teach them, but are disappointed that managers rarely interact with them. They want
a boss who is trustworthy, a subject matter expert, kind and willing to share credit as well as accept blame.
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10 / 13
Retaining Gen Y
Gen Y employees look for specific qualities in jobs and will stay as long as those needs are met, moving on if
and when they’re not. Important factors to retaining Gen Y as part of your workforce include:
1. Live up to promises
This sounds simple, but far too often employers fail to embody the organizational values they espouse and
the promises they make during the recruiting process. Gen Yers who are dissatisfied with the reality of their
working environments will quickly move on to outside opportunities. Location and lifestyle matter to them,
but development and empowerment keep them.
2. Understand workforce metrics
Have you identified your Gen Y employees and the percentage of your workforce they comprise? If you
have, hopefully you already have programs in place to develop and engage them in your business. If not,
you need to be on the fast track to gathering appropriate data to put a strategy in place to better develop
and engage them.
3. Increase engagement
Gen Y is motivated by self-development and online learning that they can manage on their own time at
their own pace. Any e-learning you offer puts your company ahead of the curve and is viewed as a valuable
benefit by Gen Y employees. They’re most likely to stay engaged, and you’ll see minimal turnover when they
feel your company is actively involved in their development and takes a genuine interest in helping them.
Answers to the generational quiz:
The correct answer for all four traits is Gen Y.
If this doesn’t match your view of this group of
workers, read more about managing workforce
generations in our blog on bridging the
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Gen Y is eager, confident and continually trying to be better at work. They exhibit an overall desire for personal
and career development, the ability to work at something they believe in and the need to enjoy the jobs they do.
They will work extremely hard when they feel
the company is worth it, and they’ll do so while
simultaneously integrating work with their
They see old boundaries and social orders as barriers to workplace success. It’s up to us as employers to
adjust our expectations and the way we’ve always done things to embrace the Gen Y population who will be
tomorrow’s movers and shakers.
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About This Author
Jill Silman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Jill Silman is a senior performance consultant at Insperity Recruiting Services, where she has worked for
nearly three years. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas, a master’s degree
in HR management from Tarleton State University, SPHR certification and 31 years’ experience in the HR and
To learn more, call 877-222-0499 or visit insperity.com.
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