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Ready or Not, Here They Come!

They're tattooed. They're pierced. They're 64 million strong. They're the first wave of Generation Y (born between 1984 and 2002) and they're about to take the workplace by storm. They’re ready for you, but are you (and your organization) ready for them?

The Gen Y'ers (also known as “Millennials”) come to the workplace with a markedly different perspective than that of past generations. Having grown up during the dot-com boom and the "war for talent," they recognize the potential to make a significant impact in the business world. At the same time, as eyewitnesses to the corporate, institutional and journalistic scandals of recent years, they are also highly skeptical.

They have in common many other shared experiences that will create bonds among them—and distinguish them from your current workforce. Consider, for example, that television was the defining technology for Baby Boomers and drove a culture of homogeneity. For this new generation, the defining technology has been the Internet, which drives diversity.

They've grown up in a digital, networked, mobile world. They love all things high-tech, from Blackberries and Bluetooth to camera phones, iPods and PS2. They're hip, they're aware and long familiar with AOL, IM, ATMs, PCs, ISPs, and DVDs. Toss in TCBY, for that matter.

They're pragmatic. They've witnessed organizational restructuring and layoffs, often involving their own families, so they don't believe job security is guaranteed. They want to acquire the skills and networks that will make them marketable now and in the future. And they're idealistic—volunteerism among 16- to 24-year-olds is way up. Family and religious values are central and "jobs that matter" hold great appeal.

What else should you know about them? They have a high tolerance for change and innovation and more afraid of being bored than of being fired. The high number of college graduates among them don't expect to stay with their first employer for more than two years. They believe that they will hold many jobs in a multiple organizations and change careers several times throughout their work lives.

They represent the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in history. They come, as well, from a different social and cultural environment than do past generations. One in four comes from a single-parent home. Three in four have working mothers. And forget about that long-gone era when children were "seen and not heard." Gen Y’ers have had their own cell phones—and credit cards—as since they were preteens. Their opinions were regularly sought in family decision making (especially when it came to buying and setting up the latest technology).

From scholastic tutoring to music and sports, Gen Y'ers have been overscheduled by parents trying to keep them out of trouble and make up for time lost to the family by working parents.  They have, in short, become older younger.

Tips for recruiting Gen Y’ers:
  1. Be candid. Gen Y'ers come to interviews prepared. They've been "sold to" all their lives and their "BS barometer" is finely tuned. They also tend to believe one another, which is why some savvy companies use satisfied Gen Y'er employees as liaisons with prospective Gen Y hires.
  2. Recruit to the culture. Many people want to join an organization whose culture reflects their own values. That's why companies like Disney and the University of Colorado Hospital show applicants a video that explains their standards, rules, dress code and expected behaviors. Even before filling out an application applicants are asked, "Can you uphold our values?"
  3. Upgrade internship programs. IBM's Extreme Blue internship program ensures that interns don't end up making coffee and photocopies. Instead, it mixes MBA students with computer developers in research labs around the world.
  4. Fix up your Website. A well-structured and easily navigated Website is a must for recruiting.
  5. Mind your CRM. Candidate Relationship Management (CRM) is a mindset that values the relationship between the recruiter and the potential recruit. How a candidate is initially treated by recruiters sets the tone for his or her impression of the organization. CRM tactics include responding quickly, making each candidate feel unique and keeping them informed.

Tips for retaining Gen Y employees. Here’s what Gen Y'ers say they want most in a job:

  1. Great bosses. They want people who will get to know them personally as well as professionally. They want a boss who cares about them as individuals and encourages personal relationships between employees. This generation thrives on relationships; they are reluctant to leave companies where they have friends.
  2. Frequent feedback. The days of annual performance reviews are over. Gen Y employees want constant, informal assessments of how they are doing.
  3. Recognition. Catch people doing things right. Instantly recognize and reward outstanding efforts. Show people that you appreciate their contributions.
  4. Collaboration and teamwork. Command and control tactics don't work with the Gen Y'ers, who want to exchange knowledge and be treated as valuable team members. Bring employees into the planning process of any initiatives that affect them. Address their concerns and cocreate goals and strategy.
  5. Access to information. Computers have given this generation the experience of always having information "at their fingertips," and they are adept at using various data sources and technology to blend seemingly unrelated elements when solving problems.

Concluding thoughts:
Gen Y"ers aren’t easily pleased. They value education and they want to be encouraged and supported in their personal growth and development plans. They want the challenge and excitement of getting on board and getting up to speed quickly. The worst thing you can do is leave them sitting around waiting for something to happen. Give them a task or responsibility they can own and allow them to become involved in a wide range of projects.

Most important, Gen Y'ers work to live, not live to work. Younger employees want control of their time, whether it involves organizationally structured arrangements such as flex-time or contractual work or management philosophies and practices that stress results over "face time." They're also looking for meaning in their lives, so it’s crucial to help new employees make a values match between their personal values and the organization's vision/mission. Let individuals know specifically how their work contributes to the goals of the enterprise.

Competitive salaries and benefits? Of course they're part of the equation. But as one executive told me, "If they come just for the bucks, they'll leave for the bucks." Retaining Gen Y'ers will depend more on building their engagement—with challenging work in a nurturing environment—than it will on salary.

They're ready for you. Are you ready for them?