Gen Y Replacing the Boomers – Are You Ready?

I am working with a client to assist with hiring a new staff professional for her organization.  This particular client is about my age and a “baby boomer” by all measures.  She is specifically looking for talent that can ultimately contribute to the succession of current leaders in the organization, and is specifically looking for entry level and lesser experienced people who can grow and become the leaders of tomorrow.

I asked her, “Are you and your organization ready to accept such a person?”  She was puzzled in my question as she thought it was actually a pretty easy task: find and hire a sharp individual, and all will be well.

Not quite.

After hiring experienced folks for most of my life as a manager, I switched my tactics to hire folks with potential for many of my roles. How hard could it be to hire folks 25 to 30 years my junior?  What I found was that the expectations and conditions needed for success for this type of talent was quite different than what I had become accustomed to by hiring “baby boomers” and “Gen X’rs” for most of my career.

After unsuccessfully screening a number of these candidates commonly referred to as “Gen Y”, I realized I needed to better understand what was important to them in a job.  So, I launched a fairly unscientific survey to a group of 25 or so of the brightest young professionals I know.  I asked one simple question:

“What are the things beyond pay and benefits that are important to you in a job?”

The top response was echoed by over 90% of the respondents: “Flexible work hours and schedule”. This was followed by “fun work culture” and “working with people I like to hang out with” and similar comments.  When I started in the workforce years ago, this question would have been answered with “career growth opportunities” and “training and development”.

The implication is that in order to attract the best and the brightest of this generation, we need to recognize some of these considerations and think about how they mesh with our company environments and cultures.  Early on, I hired a professional that was a good fit for my needs that, much to my dismay, left a year later.  It turns out we were not a good fit for his needs, specifically the needs beyond the basics of pay and benefits, career growth and opportunity.  He was a young person working with a bunch of traditionalists.  In his eyes, we just didn’t get what he needed or wanted – which was true.Moving from there, I coached my client along the following lines:

  • Work life balance is key, and what that means to to a Gen Y is different than to us Boomers. This might mean new or different processes.
  • The outdated and cumbersome administrative processes being used that are an annoyance for a Boomer are totally unacceptable for a Gen Y.  We are talking about a group of people who grew up with cell phones and internet.
  • Security means less to them, and the “experience” means more.  Gen Y is a group that has seen elders and parents lose their jobs and houses, and so employers are not viewed as “permanent”.  Instead, they are looking for things to add to their resume’ and credentials.
  • Be ready to look at assumptions and standard practices in order to make your organization the type that can attract the talent that will become leaders in the future.
There is tremendous value in the institutional knowledge and practices we’ve built into our organizations.  At the same time, there is value in visiting and questioning these assumptions and practices, and evolving them for the needs of today and tomorrow.  Given the volatility of the business world, we all need this type of agility in tactics and practices to prosper.
A lot of this is the benefit that comes from hiring a workforce that is not :”just like us”. The real question is, “are you ready?”.