Generation Y, those brash, überconfident youngsters typically defined as born between 1982 and 2005, are taking corporate America by storm. They expect promotions, flexible work schedules, lots of vacation time and more money, as if those benefits were their right, not something to be earned. But because Generation Y represents the workforce of the future, employers are changing stodgy HR policies in response to their demands, according to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder and Harris Interactive.
The survey of 2,546 hiring managers and human resources professionals was designed to explore the challenges, benefits and impact of Generation Y’s entrance into the workforce, said Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s vice president of human resources, via e-mail. The research was conducted in June 2007. CareerBuilder defined Generation Y professionals as those age 29 and younger.
Generation Y is colliding with older generations on the job, and the differences among baby boomers’, Generation X’s and Generation Y’s communication styles, job expectations and cultural frames of reference can create tension among these workers and hamper productivity. (Baby boomers are typically born between 1946 and 1964, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Definitions for Generation X birthdates vary; a Census Bureau study put the range from 1968 to 1979; other researchers and reference sources define the demographic as those born 1965 to 1981.)
The survey results reveal major differences in the way Generation Y, Generation X and baby boom employees communicate. Almost half of respondents (49 percent) noted Generation Y’s preference to communicate through technology (blogs, instant messaging and text messaging, for example), as opposed to having face-to-face or phone conversations, the preferred methods of baby boomers and Generation X.
Generation Y’s different cultural frame of reference, noted by 25 percent of survey respondents, also heightens the generation gap in the workplace. “The Gen Y frame of reference tends to be influenced by technology – blogs, Internet sites, etc. – where Gen X’s and baby boomers’ frames of reference are more influenced by traditional media such as TV and print,” writes Haefner. “Given that each of these generations grew up at different times, the shows and music they reference are different. While Gen X is more likely to make Seinfeld references, Gen Y is more likely to refer to The Hills ,” she adds, referring to the hit quasi-reality show on MTV.
Communication styles a key generational difference
“Communication style probably has a greater impact on productivity and morale than frame of reference,” said Haefner. “Gen Y workers tend to communicate more through technology, so communications tend to be abbreviated and at times abrupt.” The tone and meaning of those truncated, abbreviated messages are easily misunderstood.
Further complicating matters among Generation Y, Generation X and baby boom workers is the fact that 55 percent of employers over the age of 35 think Generation Y workers have a more difficult time following directions or responding to supervisors than older generations.
Another significant difference between Generation Y and older workers that creates tension is Generation Y’s expectations of how they will be treated on the job. A whopping 87 percent of survey respondents say some or most Generation Y workers feel more entitled to receive better compensation and benefits and faster career advancement than older workers. To wit:
— 74 percent of employers say Generation Y workers expect to be paid more.
— 61 percent say Generation Y workers expect to have flexible work schedules.
— 56 percent say Generation Y workers expect to be promoted within a year.
— 50 percent say Generation Y workers expect to have more vacation or personal time.
— 37 percent say Generation Y workers expect to have access to state-of-the-art technology.
Older workers aren’t the only ones who believe that Generation Y feels more entitled. Seventy-three percent of hiring managers and HR professionals age 25 to 29 also say Generation Y workers expect more money, promotions, flexible work schedules and vacation time. (For more information on Generation Y’s upbringing and its impact on the workplace, read Management Techniques for Bringing Out the Best in Generation Y.)
Generation Y has been so vocal about its job expectations that employers are beginning to take notice. Fifteen percent of employers said they changed their HR policies or implemented new ones to cater to Generation Y workers. Among the changes they’ve made:
— 57 percent have introduced more flexible work schedules.
— 33 percent have implemented more recognition programs.
— 26 percent give employees more access to state-of-the-art technology.
— 26 percent have increased salaries and bonuses.
— 24 percent offer more ongoing training programs.
— 20 percent pay for cell phones and BlackBerrys.
— 18 percent offer more telecommuting options.
— 11 percent increased vacation time.
Haefner notes that these changes benefit all workers, not just those from Generation Y. “As companies’ culture evolves with each generation, you’ll see all workers benefiting from a variety of viewpoints and work styles,” she says.