Generation Y. Millennials. Trophy Generation. The Me First Generation.
Regardless of how you refer to them, organizations worldwide are really perplexed by the generation of young adults now moving into the majority of the workforce, consumer spending, and voting power.
Often dismissed as entitled, attention-deficit, and incapable of interpersonal communication, leaders often lament the fact this generation is difficult to understand and impossible to engage. Few have taken the extra step to truly understand what motivates and inspires this generation.
I have spent the last several months doing just that, researching and interviewing hundreds of Gen Ys and authoring a book on the topic. “Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now” (ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership) will hit bookshelves later this month. This book was written to help leaders determine why Generation Y isn’t engaging and what to do about it.
Think you know Y? Think again.
As the first generation to come of age in the post-Industrial Era, Generation Y’s interpretation of the world and how it works differs from the generations born during the Industrial Era. As a result, they communicate, purchase, and engage differently and have introduced in entirely new approaches and values systems.
Here are a few of the shifts occurring as Gen Y moves into young adulthood
Generation Y is more apt to move from one opportunity to the next, garnering them a reputation for having a lack of loyalty. Ys are very loyal—they’re just not loyal to institutions; they are loyal to people. Gen Y commits when meaningful, trustworthy relationships are actively present.
After defining ourselves for centuries by possessions—cars, houses, stocks, land, and jewelry—what matters most to Generation Y is not so much ownership as access. They will forego ownership to rent or share, and they love technology for providing access to most of the essentials of everyday life. The pressure is on to provide access to products and experiences that deliver a real return on investment.
Members of the older generations are likely to define community as knowing your neighbors. Generation Y defines community as having access to and interacting with a global network via social media. Globalization is something earlier generations could only consider in abstract terms; Generation Y has always lived it.
No longer is all the wisdom and experience contained within the eldest, predominantly male population. This hierarchical, homogenous model survived for centuries, but it will end with Y. They are the most ethnically diverse generation in history, best educated, and the first to have more women than men obtain postsecondary credentials.
It used to be that you would choose a career, get a job, and work for that industry—sometimes for the same company—until you retired. Today, more workers are detaching from conventional jobs to take on contract work and Gen Y has launched a record number of businesses. The entire workforce is moving into an entrepreneurial mindset both figuratively and literally.
Ys are very smart, savvy consumers and they will do their homework before they purchase anything. Ys will want facts and expect great customer service. This will mean organizations need to shift their focus from sales to service; recruitment to relationship building.
You can choose to dwell on the challenges that lie ahead or you can dwell on the opportunities. But one thing is certain – whatever choice you make from here on out, it will begin and end with Y.
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