GNcareers, from Gulf News

The different rules that apply for Generation Y workers

The different rules that apply for Generation Y workersImage Credit: Supplied

So much literature has to date focused on how to lead Generation Y, popularly identified as those born between approximately 1980 and 2000. After all, this demographic has represented our graduate level employees for the last decade.

You can't open an HR-focused magazine without finding at least one article about 'Generation Ys' or 'Millennials', sometimes described with admiration and awe, sometimes derided as irrational or even dangerously separated from reality. Employers have thought hard about how to attract and retain the best of these high potentials. However, this task has proven to be exceptionally difficult, as if 'the deal' has changed, as if these employees never intended to stay for long, no matter how generous the package. This has been the initial Gen Y challenge.

The more recent challenge has been that the oldest of Generation Ys are now entering their 30s and are no longer just young graduates looking for a foothold on the career ladder. They also now count among their numbers managers, seasoned specialists and professionals, even well-known CEOs such as Mark Zuckerberg.

In other words, we have spent so much energy diagnosing how to lead Gen Y, but Gen Ys are now starting to lead themselves.

While we have been aware of the first challenge for some time, we are only now becoming cognisant of the second. Beyond plenty of anecdotal information to assist our understanding of these challenges, London Business School undertook a survey to add more tangible insight.

Since 2009, London Business School has been issuing a survey to the participants of our executive education open enrolment Leading Teams for Emerging Leaders Programme, asking about their attitudes toward work, employee engagement, and leadership paradigms. This course is a training ground for the global managers of the future.

Participants are almost all Gen Y; their average age is 29, and the survey respondents come from 33 countries, including 36 per cent from the Middle East.

One of the key questions this survey asked is if participants feel more loyalty to their team or to their organisation. The majority, 54 per cent, answered that their loyalty lay with the team. While 54 per cent cannot be interpreted as a vast majority, it is significant that even this large portion of respondents answered that their immediate colleagues have greater influence than the classic employer value proposition.

There is a greater responsibility than ever for team leaders and department heads to consciously and proactively develop team cohesion and a tangible community. Gen Y grew up, after all, with social media, in the age of community and connection.

Institutional influence has less sway over this generation than at any time since perhaps the rebellion against incumbent authority during the 1960s. Today, long-term company benefits such as pensions and steady but gradual promotion mean less to the Gen Y employee than having an immediate challenge/project, personal/professional development and meaning/purpose for their work.

This last quality — that of purpose — is critical. The power of 'why we are here; what it means to work here' has never been more important to employees. If the transactional nature of work, the lower levels of Maslow's hierarchy, are losing sway, then the higher order of meaning surely needs to be owned by team leaders and within the everyday dialogue of their teams.

Another powerful tool at the team leader's disposal for employee engagement is team development. Rather than rewarding individuals with executive training, there is more impact to doing so with the entire team together. The team then may build a common vocabulary, a collective call to action, a stronger culture, and a renewed and sharpened focus.

If teams can achieve a profound impact by growing ever more effective and significant in the footprint they make on their world, then their members have dwindling reasons to look elsewhere for career development.

The older segment of Generation Y, those attaining leadership positions in their own right, understand this dynamic better than anyone. As more Gen Ys emerge into leadership, not only will the 'team value proposition' come to the fore, but the paradigm of the generation of community will start to influence the organisation's priorities, the way the company organises internally, creates incentives, and defines what success means.

We are quickly approaching a meridian, and once it is crossed, the fundamental challenges we have articulated about work-life that we have answered from the perspective and experience of the 20th century will be transparently anachronistic.

Find out about aligning training with client expectations

Source: Adam Kingl, Special to

The writer is Executive Director of Learning Solutions for Executive Education at London Business School