Secrets of recruiting young workers: benefits and promotions

Facing a potential onslaught of baby boomer retirements and a smaller pool of Generation X employees to replace them, IT managers who want to create or sustain a Best Place to Work environment will need the additional help of another group of professionals: Generation Y.

Also known as Millennials, this group consists of nearly 80 million individuals born roughly between 1979 and 1999. They are the workforce of the future.

But what will it take to attract and keep these individuals? Are Generation Y’s ideas about what makes a great employer different from those of other generations?

Yes, and no.

In many ways, the Millennial generation wants exactly what professionals from previous generations expect from employers. When polled for a recent study by Computerworld and Yahoo HotJobs, the most senior members of Generation Y – those aged 21 to 28 and beginning their careers – placed salary, benefits and opportunities for professional growth at the top of their lists.

This isn’t to say, however, that they are like their predecessors in every way. In terms of their workstyles, professional expectations and career concerns, they show some distinct preferences. Based on their responses to the survey, here are a few suggestions for making your company Gen Y-friendly.

No. 1: Offer attractive benefits.

Salary is a key consideration for members of this group, but so are benefits.

Growing up at a time when the costs of raising a family are higher than ever before, Gen-Yers are most attracted to companies that provide first-rate health care and retirement benefits.

No. 2: Promote work/life balance. Nearly 73% of Gen-Yers surveyed said they are concerned about being able to balance a career with personal obligations.

Consider implementing specialized arrangements – such as flextime, telecommuting or a compressed workweek – that give employees more control over their work schedules.

No. 3: Narrow the rungs of the corporate ladder.

Millennials are willing to work hard, but when it comes to moving up the ranks, they want to do so quickly.

According to the study, 51% of Millennials surveyed believe professionals entering the workforce should have to spend only one to two years proving themselves in entry-level positions. That means you aren’t likely to attract or keep talented Gen Y employees by requiring them to spend years “paying their dues.”

No. 4: Ensure managers are engaged and accessible.

In the survey, Millennials described their “dream boss” as being understanding, caring, flexible and open-minded, as well as someone who is authoritative but respects, values and appreciates his employees. They aren’t looking for a micromanager, but they do value good management skills and regular contact with their supervisors; in fact, 35% of those surveyed want to communicate with the boss several times a day.

No. 5: Foster “face time.”

Even though Gen-Yers grew up with cell phones, e-mail and the Internet, two-thirds of survey respondents selected in-person conversations with their co-workers as their preferred communication method. You’ll encourage longer tenures and greater loyalty among employees if you create opportunities for them to interact with others. Consider arranging workgroups in open seating areas, establishing project teams or developing a mentoring program.

Although Generation Y employees bring specific values and ideals to the business world, it would be a mistake to view all of them simply through a generational lens. Avoid stereotyping and be prepared to tailor your workplace policies and management strategies when necessary.

IT professionals who are members of Generation Y expect a lot from their employers, but they also expect a lot of themselves and enter the workforce eager to make contributions and prove their value. The key to successfully recruiting and retaining Millennials is taking the time to learn what they care most about on and off the job.

For millenials that have already jumped on board in the workplace, this is the tid-bits of advice they offer out to their peers looking to start a career.

1. Keep an open mind, and don’t jump to conclusions.

When faced with isolated facts, remember that you may not have the whole story. This is advice I could have used when I was the age of the person who just gave it to me. When I was in my 20s, I used to think that senior managers could be pretty darn stupid at times.

A lot of the time, they did things that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Now that I am a senior manager myself, I understand that we all will make mistakes on occasion, but in general, managers have good reasons for their decisions.

2. Don’t worry so much.

I was surprised to hear this from a highly competent middle manager. Of all the young people I work with, she seems to have the least to worry about. Having graduated from a prestigious college, she managed to break into middle management before the age of 30. She’s competence personified. But perhaps being worried — and doing something about it — is what has gotten her where she is.

Here I am, a generation older, and I still worry about the details, the big picture and everything in between, and it’s difficult to imagine a time when I won’t. But I have learned to focus my worry on things I can do something about rather than on things that belong to others.

So, this young middle manager may have been saying, “Don’t worry so much about things you can’t do anything about.” Or perhaps not. Like me, she may not learn that until she’s in her 30s.

3. Don’t grow up too fast.

This was my favorite bit of advice. It came from a very smart analyst, who said that there’s plenty of time to settle into middle age and that in the meantime, one should travel as much as possible. When this analyst is working, she does a great job, and when she’s not, she has a great time.

She has already found what most of us older folks yearn for — a work/life balance that gives her a satisfying career and a lot of great experiences. Her philosophy may sound similar to the “work hard and play hard” ethic of the ’90s, but it’s really more relaxed and more focused on being present and enjoying being present — both when at work and when at play.

After listening to the “kids” in the office, I spoke with our “seniors,” the oldest baby boomers. These are professionals who, having retired from one career, have returned to the workforce (some of them part time) because they want to. For the most part, they echoed what the Gen Y’ers had to say. But they added something to the advice about growing up too fast:

4. Don’t grow old too fast.

Too many people accept restrictions placed upon them by others — even well-meaning people like doctors and family members. So what if Jerry Rice had to play football for the Raiders? The point is that he was still playing — doing what he enjoyed.

So to all of us in the sandwich generation, taking care of our kids and our parents, older than these Gen Y’ers and not yet retired, I say stop and make sure you’re enjoying where you are right now. Don’t grow up too fast, and certainly don’t grow old too fast.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis.

Virginia Robbins is a former CIO who is currently the chief administrative officer responsible for bank operations at the California Bank of Commerce. You can contact her at vrobbins@sbcglobal.net.

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