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Generation Y

10 Strategies To Get Gen Y To Work

Recession or not, we are in the age of the young knowledge worker. Generation Y, presently ages 13 to 26, is the most high-performing generation in the history of mankind with more information in their heads and at their fingertips–so they can perform a variety of tasks in many business domains and can live anywhere if the job and company are cool.

Recession or not, we are in the age of the young knowledge worker. Generation Y, presently ages 13 to 26, is the most high-performing generation in the history of mankind with more information in their heads and at their fingertips–so they can perform a variety of tasks in many business domains and can live anywhere if the job and company are cool. In addition to their knowledge, Ys differ from other generations in many respects, from their political views to the careers they choose (or don't choose). Ys are ambitious, and if you can't find a compelling reason to stick around, they won't. Recent surveys indicate that employers are least likely to hire Generation Y in comparison to other generations. Gen Y workers have been negatively labeled 'demanding' and 'self-serving', rather than 'confident' and 'focused on work-life balance'. When you look at the fact that over 64 million workers will be eligible to retire by the year 2010, this puts employers in a talent deficit dilemma. Employers will have no choice but to work side-by-side and succession plan with Generation Y.But recruiting Generation Y isn't the only hurdle that needs to be cleared. The presence of Ys n the workplace is truly making an impact, causing employers to worry, fret, and scratch their heads asking, 'What do I do to attract the 20-something worker, and once I have them, how do I keep them?' Employers have really struggled to understand this generation that isn't interested in climbing a corporate ladder or motivated by robust benefits packages and increasing salaries. The year 2010 is nearly a year away. With 40% of our workforce eligible to retire, who will take their place? Will Gen Y be working for your company or for your competition? I spend a great deal of time researching and tracking the efforts of the companies listed below, and I recently discovered that Bea Fields, a fellow generational consultant, compiled them into a great top 10 list. Here's her list of companies who are successful attracting Gen Y, the young knowledge worker. As you read through this list, consider how your company can expand its knowledge and its workforce.

  1. Google: Focus on PerksGoogle is raising the bar for each company in the world in the war for young talent. According to a study done by the Great Place to Work Institute, Google is at the top of Gen Y's list of companies they most want to work for –and why not? Google employees gain access to perks including on-site dental and medical facilities; free breakfast, lunch and dinner on a daily basis at 11 gourmet restaurants; unlimited sick leave;and a global education leave program which enables employees to take a leave of absence to pursue further education for up to 5 years and $150,000 in reimbursement.
  2. Intuit: Focus on a Rotational Development ProgramGen Y was born multi-tasking, so boredom on the job can set in quickly. Intuit has addressed this by offering a cracker-jack Rotational Development Program, allowing new recruits rotation programs in finance, marketing and product development every 6-12 months. This program not only keeps young workers engaged but prepares them for future leadership positions in the company.
  3. Walt Disney: Focus on Internships and a Collaborative CultureThe Walt Disney Company has a rock solid internship program for college students, which includes college credits for the colleges they partner with, which gets young leaders committed to the company before they graduate. Disney is also built on a foundation of a diverse and collaborative culture, and Generation Y was born playing on teams made up of members from all cultures and walks of life. The sense of camaraderie makes Disney attractive for Gen Y, because it breeds a familiar sense of teamwork.
  4. Deloitte: Focus on Leadership DevelopmentGeneration Y is very attracted to all aspects of learning and development. They have been raised on a diet which includes a combination of personal, leadership and team development. Deloitte has therefore designed a state of the art leadership program called the Future Leaders Apprentice Program (FLAP), and new recruits are immediately eligible for the program. Deloitte is also offering a top flight coaching and mentoring program. Because Gen Y has been coached since age 5, they are saying that the coaching and development programs offered by Deloitte are two of the main attraction points that has them stick around or return later in their career.
  5. The Peace Corps: Focus on Saving the WorldThe pay in The Peace Corps not so great (as a matter of fact, most Gen Y leaders say it's lousy), but they are willing to sacrifice pay in order to do meaningful work on a global scale, to work and live in another country where they can become fluent in a new language and to toughen up mentally and emotionally by doing hard work with long hours. Generation Y sees companies who are making a significant contribution back to their communities as tops on their lists for future employment. Teach for America is another hot and growing company that allows emerging leaders the opportunity to teach in failing school districts–another approach to 'making a difference' in the world.
  6. Lockheed Martin:Focus on Continuing EducationGen Y is all about knowledge acquisition and Lockheed Martin aeronautics and space company has hit the nail on the head with 20-something recruits by offering a maximum of $7500.00 annual for education reimbursement and full graduate school sponsorship for junior level employees.
  7. L'Oreal USA: Focus on College Competitions and World TravelIf you have not noticed this lately, Gen Y loves a competition, and they are certainly keen on world travel. L'Oreal has latched onto this idea with its L'Oreal Brandstorm Competition, providing college students the opportunity to compete by putting themselves in the shoes of a L'Oreal Brand Manager. The competition allows emerging leaders the opportunity to analyze consumer trends while developing a top of the line marketing and advertising campaign for L'Oreal. The winner receives a trip to Paris and the opportunity to interact with top L'Oreal managers, giving young recruits a leg up during the recruiting and hiring process. The competition alone creates buzz and a 'cool factor' for L'Oreal, which is appealing to 20-somethings.
  8. Southwest Airlines: Focus on FunGeneration Y's mantra is "Live First, Work Second and Have Fun!", and Southwest's quirky but fun-loving culture makes it a great first stomping grounds for the young knowledge worker.
  9. Nike: Focus on FitnessNike's campus is a prime location for Gen Y, who hits the gym at least 3-4 times each week. Nike is situated on over 170 acres, which includes a fabulous exercise center, playing fields and running trails. And of course, their "Just Do It" tagline inspires young workers to actually use these facilities rather than sitting at home in front of their computer or the tube.
  10. Apple: Focus on SimplicityIf you have visited an Apple store lately, you will notice that you will be greeted by a young man or woman under age 30 at the Genius Bar. In a report by Outlaw Consulting, Apple won the number 1 loyalty spot for Gen Y because their products are as "stripped-down and unadorned as possible". To be simple means convenience and speed to the multi-tasking Gen Y crowd. This audience is also highly dedicated to saving the environment. Gen Y is therefore choosing to work for companies like Apple whose positioning is dedicated to the greening of our world.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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