Following on from Baby Boomers and Gen X, this week we look at the most talked-about generations in the workforce: Generation Y.

Generation Y / Millenials (Born 1979 – 2000)

Generation Y, also known as Millennials, are making up more and more of the workforce every day. It is predicted that by 2020 they will comprise over 50% of the workforce. Gen Y is turning out to be vastly different from their predecessors. They grew up immersed in technology with constant access to information and instant feedback through social media and the internet. Millennials grew up in the most affluent society in history and were told at every stage of their life that they could have anything they wanted. In the workplace this has made them ambitious to a fault, often being branded as entitled, arrogant and spoilt.


While these characteristics are broad stereotypes, the common demographic, economic and social trends each generation shares has influenced their formative years.

So what are the broad characteristics of Generation Y:

Seek Feedback

  • They look for feedback about how they are doing frequently.
  • Require constant attention.

Seek Variety

  • They want a variety of tasks and expect that they will accomplish every one of them.
  • Seek challenges and do not want to experience boredom.

Seek Direction

  • They seek informal leadership and expect that you will draw out and respect their ideas.
  • Expect you to earn their trust and loyalty.
  • Need to see where their career is going and they want to know exactly what they need to do to get there.

Seek Work-Life Balance

  • They are used to balancing many activities such as teams, friends, and philanthropic activities.
  • Like Gen X, Gen Y ‘work to live’.
  • Value work-life balance and flexibility.

Expect Transparency

  • Don’t believe in traditional hierarchies.
  • Expect transparency in organizations and the ability to contribute freely.


  • They are connected all over the world by technology and see solutions in tech terms.
  • Prefer to communicate through technology.

Managing and Motivating Generation Y

Gen Y are facing a mixed bag in the working world. While older Gen Yers are already in the workforce, those who graduated during the economic downturn struggled to find their first jobs out of university. Hiring freezes and high youth unemployment means the lofty expectations Gen Y were raised on weren’t coming to fruition. While this problem is much less prevalent in Canada, businesses need to do a better job of attracting, motivating and retaining Millennials to ensure a strong workforce as Boomers retire.

Here are a few tips on working with/managing Generation Y:

Set Short-Term Goals with Continuous Feedback

  • Set continuous short-term goals and praise them along the way to the goal.
  • Gen Y are used to constant feedback and acknowledgement of what they do well.
  • Most importantly, they want to do a good job and get immediate rewards. Make sure you have system that will allow that to happen.
  • Quit telling them about five-year plans. Their plan in five years is to have a new plan.

Provide Training and Growth Opportunities

  • Gen Y often rate mentoring and learning opportunities as more important than money (although that’s still important).
  • They are extremely ambitious and managers should foster their feeling of getting ahead.
  • Gen Y are more positive than most generations, they want to feel like they are making a worthwhile contribution to work and the world.
  • Show how they fit into the bigger picture and how their work is valued.

Communicate Openly and Informally

  • Like Gen X, Gen Y likes to work in fun and informal environments.
  • Prefer flat organizations with internal transparency.
  • Do not like to be ‘talked down’ to.
  • Show interest in them as people/peers.
  • Use technology to communicate – email, instant messaging, skype etc

Flexibility and Individuality

  • Work/life balance is important to Gen Y; they want a job that fits around their lifestyle.
  • Value flexible working hours and telecommuting.
  • Give them access to high-tech tools to achieve their goals.
  • They are used to being able to customize everything and expect to be treated as individuals.

Accommodating Gen Y workers in the workplace and adapting to their workstyles is going to be a big challenge for most businesses. Gen Y believes they can be the next ‘Great Generation’ and will transform the way business is done. Whether these lofty expectations will come true or not is yet to be seen but they’re already making quite the splash. Despite being perceived as disloyal job-hoppers, Gen Y aren’t necessarily disloyal so much as they are adverse to boredom and career stagnation. The bottom line is businesses NEED Millenials and retaining them with training, growth paths, a culture they enjoy and flexible work lifestyle may just be the way forward.

How has your company adapted to Gen Y in the workforce? Let us know in the comments below.