- Thursday, August 20, 2009

This is MY Generation

Article obtained from thestar.com.my. For article source, click here.

Working with Gen Y

We want to live for more than work. We like to feel that we are living for more than just ourselves. Corporate social responsibility initiatives make a company more attractive to us, creating the perception that by not just living selfishly, employers are somehow better people.

THE economic downturn has thrown up many challenges to employers. One of the most publicised issues is retrenchments necessitated by cost-cutting. Employers know that there is a fine balance – they have to be mindful of the immediate need to keep the business afloat while ensuring good talent is retained.

With this in mind, the ability to understand the needs of employees – keeping them happy and motivated – is more important than ever. Globally, surveys have shown that employers struggle when it comes to the younger work force.

Popularly known as “Generation Y” or “millennials”, they include those born between 1978 and 1988.

My generation is apparently a bit of a conundrum for senior management. Why is this so? Are we really that different and difficult to decipher?

In short, no – provided that employers take time to understand the context in which we grew up, and the generational uniqueness in which we continue to work and live.

We millennials in the nascency of our careers are accustomed to living life at breakneck speed. Unconvinced? Consider the following.

Things which used to take generations (or at least one generation) to change – institutional structures, economic cycles, industrial shifts, linguistics, and socio-cultural norms now happen in a matter of years, sometimes more than once.

Since we’ve moved into the workplace, we millennials have experienced two major market crashes, the biggest single terrorist attack in history, two wars, two deadly pandemics and the bursting of no less than three global economic bubbles (dot-com, property and credit).

Technological obsolescence occurs in the blink of an eye. We have collected cassettes, CDs, minidiscs and now digital music. Innovation used to be permitted an occasional breather – for millennials, essential gadgets such as the Discman, iPod, mobile phone, computers and gaming platforms rarely last longer than two years.

And I haven’t even mentioned the fastest-changing medium of all – the Internet with its blogs, Friendster, mySpace, Facebook and Twitter.

Business owners and senior management from the “baby boomer” and “Generation X” era need to understand that the world that we millennials have grown up in has shaped the way that we think, live and work. In Malaysia, it is estimated that Generation Y account for a sizable chunk of the workforce at around 40%.

Broadly speaking, here are a few generalisations of what makes Generation Y tick.

> We look at the concept of a career differently. Generation Y has the highest number of qualified, skilled employees of any generation in history. However, millennials generally have a reduced sense of urgency in forging a career path.

Sociologists partly attribute this to the increased comfort level: working is no longer a matter of survival, and most graduates move back in with their parents after university, affording them the luxury of taking time to choose a job that they really enjoy.

Greater opportunities for success beyond the realm of traditional professional boundaries; huge success stories like Facebook were born straight out of college dorm rooms also contribute to the attitude that building a career can wait.

The concept of taking a year out to travel, experience new things or just relax is no longer the big black mark on a resume that it used to be.

> Work-life balance is not what you think it means. When it comes to keeping millennials happy at work, the concept of “work-life” balance is almost antediluvian. Merely being able to get off work early is not enough for Generation Y. In fact, studies show that millennials are happy to work late, provided that they enjoy their work.

Employers who display trust and grant flexibility to employees – not requiring them to rigidly work, work and work throughout the work day – in turn gain more productive and loyal employees.

Generation Y appreciates being allowed to take short breaks, come in slightly later, enjoy long lunches, or even work from home, without being judged. As long as the quality and quantity of their work is not affected, why should this concern an employer?

Surveys confirm that millennials who are granted flexibility during the week do not even mind being in touch with their work (such as by Blackberry) through weekends. Studies show that millennials view their work and life as a merged identity and look negatively upon employers who are too straight-laced.

The fun and social side of office life is valued by Generation Y, and we tend to be more willing to work hard in an office environment that is permissive of humour, concepts such as casual Fridays, office socials and is not all work and no play.

> We want to live for more than work. We like to feel that we are living for more than just ourselves. Corporate social responsibility initiatives make a company more attractive to us, creating the perception that, by not just living selfishly, the employers are somehow better people.

Statistically, more than 50% of millennials would prefer to work for a company that provides opportunities for employees to actively give back to the community.

> We thrive on overcoming challenges. Generation Y has grown up in the midst of the greatest knowledge boom in history – the Internet. It is irrefutable that information has been more widely accessed by millennials compared to previous generations.

Experts opine that the competitive and fast-paced world of millennials has evolved us into better problem solvers, able to handle big decisions quickly and properly, and even cope with failure better.

> Technology is crucial to us. We are the first generation to have built social networks online. We develop close friendships based on online interaction. We blog, tweet and update our Facebook status.

Access to technology is important to us. One consistently common theme that arises in every workplace survey done around the world is this: millennials are unhappy and unmotivated when the employer blocks access to the Internet or social networks.

Employers who do so are viewed as lacking the trust and flexibility mentioned previously.

Our grasp of technology is not purely for personal reasons – our ability to find information that is relevant to our work in a very short time enables us to be more efficient, and results in a more productive and successful company.

The above are just broad brush strokes of the Generation Y picture. Each employee is unique, and companies will need to take into account local cultures and their own corporate agenda when formulating employment policies.

But employers need to acknowledge the importance of making a conscious effort to understand and adapt to the mindset and needs of the millennials. After all, in time, we will be the ones running your businesses.

> The writer is a young lawyer. Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, visit www.malaysianbar.org.my/nylc.


Amy Lauren said...

Great post. I can see how this describes myself & so many other people I know who are part of Generation Y.

ah^kam_koko' said...

True~~~ True~~
We think that we are meant to live for so much more.

Jon Chu said...

yeah... =)

which is true, isn't it?