Managing Generation Y Managing Generation Y

Businesses are quickly realising the challenges of keeping younger professionals interested and motivated to bring in results.

Ashridge Business School recently held a business briefing in Dubai that aimed to provide insights on the Generation Y (Gen Y) workforce. Those young professions who are under the age of 30 have a lot to offer, but their needs often go ignored, and managers (particularly from the Generation X, or Gen X group) are finding it increasingly hard to motivate them as they have a much different set of priorities than their predecessors.

Presentations by experts at Ashridge Business School highlighted distinct differences between Gen Y and Gen X professionals, the most obvious being the importance of a high salary and the importance of feeling value and respected among younger professionals, while managers put most of their focus in career progression and hard work. Retaining and promoting Gen Y professional is by far the biggest challenge managers face, as attrition rates are climbing among the global business community.

Kai Peters, CEO, Ashridge Business School says this issue poses a series of challenges that managers must find solutions to. The biggest challenge yet may be retaining these professionals within the organisation, as attrition rates remain a huge issue faced by companies globally. “You see this with not only Generation Y but newly recruited MBAs, where companies are not sure what to do with them after they’re recruited. Some of the better practices Peters has seen in action included the incorporation of rotation programmes, where companies will move employees to different roles or departments every eight months or so, to keep them interested enough to stay within their organisation.

A difference set of priorities

Referring to Ashridge’s research on different age groups, Peters points out that the 35-year old MBA and part-time MBA professionals “realise they have to work another 30 years. So, by then, they figure out that interesting work is better than chasing money. The 25 year-olds, however, are chasing money. They want to hold a job to save enough money to retire.” He adds that it is highly possible that Gen Y professionals may “just have to run around for a few years before finding themselves and what they are interested in. Research finds that if people don’t figure out what they are doing by the time they are 35, it doesn’t happen.”

Ashridge has done extensive research on this specific topic. The findings highlight the key difference in perceptions and values between managers and Gen Y employees. When it comes to managers, their top career priorities are challenging and interesting work and advancing their career. Their younger counterparts were mostly concerned with having a high salary and a good work-life balance. The importance of having a good manager/leader is also an area that managers take seriously, that doesn’t necessarily resonate with Gen Y employees.

Another key differentiator of Gen Y is their expectation to instantly get what they want. This is fuelled mostly by recent technology trends that have created an fast-changing high-tech culture of convenience. This type of mentality sets professionals up for disappointment in the workplace as they see themselves as not moving up or around in the company quick enough.

“I don’t think it’s possible to have everything instantly, unless you live in a very transactional society where there’s lots of demand for you. We see it in China, managers move around a lot people are chasing a bit more money and trying to get rich quick,” says Peters. “The best thing to do is try to create an interesting workplace to get people to realise the benefits of doing something they are genuinely interested in.”

In terms of incentives, Peters says that one of the most effective ways to incentivise is to offer praise and recognition, instead of resorting to bonus chasing. He adds that this group of individuals want to feel valued and understood by their managers.

Reverse mentoring

Peters also suggests reverse mentoring as a possible strategy to get more of these young professionals motivated, by actually having them participate and contribute in high-level meetings. “It’s basically about giving them a voice and explaining to senior management what Gen Y is like, where consumers are going what medium are they using; Are they tweeting? Has Facebook fallen out of favour? In many cases it has with many younger people,” he says.

There’s no question that social and technological trends have transformed the way this younger generation thinks and their overall personal and professional priorities. Not only do they lack motivation, but they are quite impatient, as they have become conditioned to getting what they want instantly and on demand.

“They follow the Steve Job’s mantra – live your dream, don’t settle for second best.  This creates a lot of pressure for employers as they must show the Generation Y employee not just that he/she will get a good salary, but that they will get interesting and challenging work and that they will be trained and developed ,” says Steve Halligan, Founder and Managin Director of The Core Group. He adds that “employers have to be prepared to accept that they will have to invest in the employee even though that loyalty is not likely to be reciprocated as they may well leave if the promise of a job with more scope to develop and improve presents itself.”

Halligan says a good first step in retaining your high performers is to get to know who exactly they are. “In our experience many companies’ performance review systems are not effective.  Few senior managers are aware of where their true talent actually lies. So many times we hear that

Kai Peters, CEO, Ashridge Business School

someone who was destined for greater things has handed in their notice and then were shocked to be told that they were being considered for a promotion.”

Irrespective of whether they are generation X or Y, The Core Group specialises in providing training and workshops to boost employee motivation. Irrespective of whether employees are generation X or Y, they have found that there are five key things that drive engagement and retention:


Make sure that people don’t just understand the vision, but that it means something to them and they are excited about it.


Most of us like to feel that the work we do makes a difference and is important.  Make sure people understand how what they do fits into the bigger picture and that they feel some sense of importance or achievement.


People do not intend to stay with an organisation for life but they do expect to leave a better person than when they joined.  Look at ways of helping people learn on a daily basis.


Try to think about how things feel from the employee perspective.  Make some attempt to understand what it is like to be a member of the rank and file employee base.


Look at your pay, reward and incentive schemes and ask yourself how we recognise people’s efforts to encourage them to do more of the same.


See if you can harness social media use rather than try to ban it.  Generation Y have grown up with these tools and therefore are much more able to multi-task than Generation X ever was.

Out with command and control

Halligan stresses the need for senior managers, who mostly fall into the Gen X category, to get in tune with their younger staff, and to think outside of their comfort zone. “The old style command and control approach will just not work with the Generation Y employee.  They tend to have little respect for authority (look at the age group that were driving the Arab Spring). So, management must involve them in the decision making process rather than issue mandates from on high with no real explanation.” To get this process started he suggests that managers need to be retrained to think and act in a different way to “win hearts and minds” as opposed to the old management style which is simply tell them what to do. He adds: “This change of mindset is often very hard for the current leadership generation to make so the more enlightened organisations are providing support and guidance for them as well.”

Rushika Bhatia Editor

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.

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