Generation game - do young professionals expect too much?

Packaging Professional magazine
15 Sep 2008

Are new professionals expecting too much from their jobs and are employers limiting themselves by selecting young workers? Danni Novick, Managing Director of Mercury Search and Selection, considers the situation.

Recruiters are often told that generation Y, those born after 1980, are different – they are not just Internet savvy but Internet native. They have been mollycoddled from birth and have been brought up to expect more and to be treated with respect. They are success driven, bored by routine and expect work/life balance from day one or they will walk away from an employer who does not meet their expectations. Should employers rethink their approach to recruitment, job design, management and motivation to attract and retain these individuals?

Great expectations

In reality, every individual is different, their wants, needs and motivations rarely conform to preconceptions. The need to evaluate people on skill and ability rather than generation is a legal requirement, and thankfully so.

However, for those with the view that they can have it all their own way, be they Baby Boomer or generations X or Y, economic reality will sooner or later flatten all but the most exceptional few.

There are currently enough redundancies across all industries to mean that people cannot be assured of walking straight into a new role. Therefore, at an individual level the imperatives of paying the bills have to take precedence over selfish expectation. At a business level, companies must be run professionally rather than as comfy social networks for the benefit of employees.

Employer responsibility

Generation Y is not a special case, companies should not change their behaviour for the benefit of this group. Generation Y may be demanding and Internet literate, but so is a wide cross-section of the labour force. New technologies and imperatives apply to getting the best out of all parts of the talent pool.

In terms of recruitment, employers should promote themselves effectively across all media available to them. Missing out whole communications channels risks limiting the talent available.

If offering a perk, consider flexibleworking, it can mean the difference between keeping or losing staff and allowing them to deliver added value. Once on board, businesses should ensure staff are motivated and going in the right direction by effective communication of goals, strategy, values and expectation.

It is not unreasonable to expect workers to do as they are told, but if you want them chomping at the bit give them an understanding of where they are heading, why and what value it is. It is their contribution to the success of the business which is important for everyone’s security.

Talking ‘bout my generation

There are broader issues to consider than someone’s age. We all want reward, interesting work and good work/life balance but there is no balance without work. Businesses operate in a competitive environment and those not doing well do not survive.

Early in any role, regardless of the person’s age, he or she should expect to show more commitment and effort in order to establish themselves in the job, because respect is earned not given. Walking away from unwanted situations too readily and too frequently will damage future employability. Generation Y should not expect to take career breaks, such as travelling the world, without affecting their employability. Technology, one of the factors said to differentiate this age group, moves so rapidly that there is a risk of being out of date and becoming less desirable than someone active in the market.

Also, in client facing roles where contacts and market knowledge are important, active candidates are usually more attractive.

In recent years skilled immigrants have entered the UK packaging sector and manufacturing is moving to lower cost economies. Employers and employees alike need to remember they are interdependent. The global economy will savage both if either side tries to have it all their own way.

There is no good reason to focus on generational issues. The factors which make employers attractive are applicable across age as much as race and gender. Employees of any age must recognise that no-one is indispensable and that companies and their staff fail or prosper together, it is not sustainable for one to benefit at the expense of the other in the long term.

Further information:

Mercury Search and Selection