The Gen Y Myths that the Gurus Make Money On

Management consultants

Good advice…

As business professionals whose focus is process performance transformation, part of our value-add is to help separate fact from fancy. One area that, in the opinion of this blog, appears to often suffer from a surfeit of fancy and a deficit of fact is the field of employee engagement and organizational leadership. Many recommendations and exhortations are provided by experts but often relying on anecdotes. For example, one area of much expert comment is how organizations must and should adjust their leadership and culture in order to attract, retain and motivate millennial workers, those workers born between 1980 and the year 2000 (also called Gen Y).

Interesting to read some research that lets some of the air out of the Gen-Y-as-different-kind-of-employee balloon. The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), for instance, has studied over 25,000 employees across over 20 countries in a series of projects and found that “in both North America and Europe, we found that generational differences were largely myths, and there was general agreement across all respondents, regardless of their age, about what was important to them in their working life and careers” (Generation Y: Attitude and Talent at Work by Regina Eckert and Jennifer Deal, 2012; the article is found at: http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/capabilities/GenerationY.pdf).

Among the myths debunked included: that millennials care more (or less) about compensation than other generation; that millennials are less trustful of and responsive to authority; and that millennials are less loyal, job-hopping more easily.

Similarly, as reported in The Economist (August 1st 2015), the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) research of 90,000 American employees found that

the millennials among them are in fact the most competitive: 59% of them, in the latest poll, said competition is “what gets them up in the morning”, compared with 50% of baby-boomers. Some 58% of millennials said they compare their performance with their peers’, as against 48% for other generations. They may spend much time messaging with other millennials on their smartphones, but they do not have much faith in them. Fully 37% of millennials say they don’t trust their peers’ input at work; for other generations the average was 26%. This is a generation of individualists, not collaborators. As for the idea that they are anti-careerist, CEB’s poll finds that 33% of millennials put “future career opportunity” among their top five reasons for choosing a job, compared with 21% for other generations. Likewise for corporate do-goodery: only 35% of millennials put a high emphasis on CSR, compared with 41% of baby-boomers.

The CEB research also found that

51% of millennials said they would look for a job at another organisation within the coming year compared with 37% of generation X-ers and 18% of baby-boomers. It also discovered that millennials are more likely to seek and value feedback from their managers than members of other generations are. But this is because they are still young, and not because of the particular generation they were born into. Young people in every generation change jobs more frequently than older people because they are looking for the right one. Young people also look for feedback because they are still learning the ropes.

In statistical terms, what this research indicates is that differences between individuals is greater than differences between the generational groups. Based on the CEB and CCL findings, leaders should focus less on faddish Gen Y tonics and more on less glamorous but effective levers: providing challenging work that is fairly rewarded and with feedback and development that affords an opportunity for advancement. Warns The Economist: “Businesses should beware of dubious generalisations about younger workers.”



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