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Generation Y

Loyalty? What Loyalty?

Over the past few weeks I seem to be stumbling across articles and have been involved in discussions about Gen Y and how they are – according to some – disloyal to their employers.

Over the past few weeks I seem to be stumbling across articles and have been involved in discussions about Gen Y and how they are – according to some – disloyal to their employers.

The main complaint I have heard is that Generation Y is fickle and impatient. They get bored easily and are unable to commit to a company long term. That’s nothing new; in fact, it’s what used to be said about Gen Xers, too.

In a recent discussion I was involved in, a CEO was getting very vocal on the subject, giving Gen Ys a hard bashing:

“They’re only loyal to certain people in the company,” he exclaimed heatedly, “but not to the company itself.”

When I asked what the company had specifically done to earn the employees’ loyalty, the CEO looked at me with a quizzical expression.

“It’s like marriage,” I explained, holding my hand up when he tried to butt in. “I’m 100% loyal to my husband and we have been happily married for almost 13 years. He receives that loyalty because he loves me and treats me with respect – and it works in the same way in the opposite direction. Without mutual loyalty and respect, our marriage wouldn’t last.”

The CEO nodded and I continued:

“Shift that to a business setting. A company can only expect loyalty from employees if that company demonstrates loyalty towards them in the first place. Can you tell me what your company has specifically done to earn loyalty from its employees?”

The answer was the crux of the problem:

“We gave them a job,” he said.

Employing someone isn’t enough to earn their loyalty. It’s the equivalent of expecting undying love after a first date.

Loyalty doesn’t happen overnight

Loyalty between a company and an employee develops over time. It’s something that has to be worked on from both sides, and it has to be earned – as in any other relationship.

An employee typically wants to be respected, nurtured, heard and be taken care of. Some leaders are better at doing this than others, hence why employees can be more dedicated to certain people, and not necessarily to a company. This is particularly the case when an employee feels that there is little or no loyalty towards them from higher up the echelons. This can be a big problem in large companies, for example, where an employee feels the powers that be think of them as “just a number” and, admittedly, it is a challenge to change that perception.

Undoubtedly, companies that are able to retain their talent are those led by individuals who understand the value in demonstrating loyalty themselves, and who don’t expect absolute devotion from employees just because they were given a job.

Lost cause for earning Millennials’ loyalty?

Ultimately I don’t think that Gen Y-ers are disloyal and unable to commit. I think it’s got far more to do with the fact that they are less willing to put up with companies that don’t demonstrate respect or loyalty towards them. It’s a good thing because it forces companies to rethink how they treat their people, it means working environments will continue to improve.

With the arrival of the Internet, email, job boards, networking sites and social media, finding roles to apply for has become much, much easier. You don’t have to scour the classifieds sections in newspapers and spend your weekends in front of a photocopier anymore. You have access to thousands of opportunities at the click of a button – so why should you stay with a company that seemingly doesn’t care?

The answer to the question, “How can we increase our employees’ loyalty?” is a simple one:

Look for ways to increase the company’s loyalty towards its people. After all, loyalty always has been – and always will be – a two-way street, regardless of the generation in question.

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.

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