Earlier this month I found a great article on Forbes.com. Written as an open letter to management, it eloquently articulated why today’s leaders struggle to retain GenY hires. Reading it, I was struck by the fact that the messages were not only spot on, but also extremely familiar.

That’s good news in my book. Let me explain why.

We’ve all heard about Generation Y in the workplace. We know that their ranks are growing, that they’re idealistic, and that they can be incredibly fickle. That last point may be the most important one. More so than any other generation before them, if they’re unhappy at work, GenYers have no qualms about switching jobs, no matter how long they have — or haven’t — been at them. In fact, many have hopped around more times in just a few short years than the rest of us have over our entire careers. For leaders anxious to keep them on payroll, that can be a real problem.

The article attributes this trend to several factors, like how these younger workers are motivated by more than just money and how they’re easily frustrated when low performance is tolerated. It also outlines why having a great culture matters to them, and why they don’t ever want to be treated like a number.

What stands out to me about all of these observations is that there’s really nothing new about them. They’re fundamentally the same issues that companies have been grappling with for decades, just put into context for a new generation.

Of course there have been some big changes at the office over the years — the technology has changed and the people have too. But, the basic points about leadership and performance management that the article takes issue with are the same ones we’ve been talking about since the 1960s. (In fact, much of ’s work ties back to this research out of Harvard published in 1968.)

There’s nothing new or scary when it comes to managing GenY

For leaders like you this is a good thing because it means that there’s nothing new or scary when it comes to managing GenY. That doesn’t make it easy, but it does mean that there’s proven steps you can take to succeed. While pulling it off is no small feat, following the four tips below will help change the climate in your office, leaving GenYers (and everyone else) feeling energised and engaged:

  1. Help people understand how they contribute to the big picture. Generation Y care about more than just the bottom line. They want to work for a cause that they can believe in. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that your organisation has a clear mission and direction that gives the work it does real purpose and meaning. Only when you have clarity around this and are able to communicate it effectively, will you win your employees over.
  1. Help people do their best work. Generation Y resent low-performers and find working alongside them debilitating. As a leader, the best way to deal with these under-achievers is to talk to them. Figure out where their interests lie and if those interests align with your company’s mission. It’s also critical to ensure each person understands how their role helps the company achieve that mission. Doing all of this will either help light a fire under them or give them the nudge they need to pursue other opportunities.
  1. Create a meaningful culture. Culture isn’t about offering dry cleaning or free meals. Culture sets the tone for what’s expected in the organisation, what’s rewarded, what’s tolerated and what’s ‘off limits’. It impacts how people behave at work and where they focus their energy. It’s about creating an environment where people are excited and believe in what they’re doing by rewarding and fostering the right behaviours. Here again clarity and communication will prove far more effective over the long haul than beanbag chairs and foosball tables.
  1. Get personal. Part of treating people the right way, and not just like numbers, is being personable. One very important way of doing this is by letting them know why you’re there everyday, what excites you about the work that you do, and what keeps you engaged and motivated. When you’re clear about that, don’t hesitate to share your narrative and encourage the same from others. It can be an incredibly effective way of engaging employees.

As a leader, it’s your job to create a climate and culture within your organisation where people are set up to do their best work. Fundamentally, that’s the same issue leaders have always faced. The context may have changed along the way, but the basic approaches you need to address it haven’t.

Follow the tips above and you’ll make strides with all of your employees, no matter what generation they’re from.


Leadership 2030 - How to engage GenY


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About Contributor

Cynthia Cottrell is a Senior Client Partner within Korn Ferry's Organization Strategy practice. With over 20 years of experience, she works closely with clients to deliver business transformation by effectively ensuring alignment between customer needs, business strategy, operations, and organisation.

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