Getting to grips with Generation Y

Written by
Adam Kingl
Duke Corporate Education

29 Mar 2019

29 Mar 2019 • by Adam Kingl

The question of how to attract and retain generation Y (or millennials – popularly identified as those born between 1982 and 2004) has dominated our thinking over the past decade; after all, this group has represented our graduate-level employees for about 14 years.

The emerging challenge is that the oldest millennials are now in their 30s and count managers, executives, seasoned specialists and professionals among their number, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (34) and airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky (37).

While we have already put substantial effort into identifying how to lead generation Y, gen Ys are now starting to lead themselves... and us.

Team value proposition

To provide insights into both challenges, I surveyed an executive education open enrolment programme for emerging leaders, over five-years, asking about their attitudes to work and leadership. This course was a training ground for global managers of the future; participants were all gen Y, from 44 different countries, with an average age of 29.

When asked whether they felt greater loyalty to their team or to their organisation, it is notable that more than half (54%) of participants said that their loyalty lay with the team rather than the company. This turns the classic idea of employer value proposition on its head. Perhaps we should instead be asking ourselves “what is the ‘team value proposition”? 

Leaders and managers have a growing responsibility to develop team cohesion – a tangible community – consciously and proactively.  After all, millennials grew up with social media, in the age of connection. Institutional influence has less sway over this generation than at any time since the 1960s rebellion against incumbent authority. 

Today, long-term company benefits provide nowhere near the security they used to. As almost all UK pensions shift from defined benefit (final salary) to defined contribution (a pot of investments whose value fluctuates with the market), companies have lost their ‘golden handcuffs’. The reward for longevity and loyalty is meagre. Many corporations used to promise promotion based on tenure over decades. This too means less to the millennial employee than immediate opportunities for professional development and meaning.

If development is so important, and most of our younger employees value their team above all, a powerful tool for employee engagement is team development. Rather than rewarding individuals with executive training and development, there may be more impact in developing the intact team, building a common vocabulary, a collective call to action, a stronger culture, and a renewed and sharpened focus. 

What is your purpose? 

According to a study by Princeton University, more than 85% of young people claim their top criterion in selecting an employer is meaning and a strong sense of purpose. The articulation and cultivation of purpose is therefore critical: the power of ‘why we are here and what it means to work here’ has never been more important to employees. That higher order of meaning surely needs to be owned by team leaders and present within the everyday dialogue of the team.

Research by Bain & Company discovered that employees working for purpose-driven companies are more than three times more productive than their dissatisfied counterparts. Different sources are concluding that purpose delivers manifold benefits from attraction and engagement to effectiveness outcomes.

The older segment of generation Y, those who have attained leadership, understand this dynamic better than anyone. As more millennials emerge into leadership, not only will the ‘team value proposition’ come to the fore, but the paradigms of this generation of community will start to influence the corporation’s priorities, the way it organises internally, creates incentives and defines what success means. 

We are quickly approaching a meridian, and once it is crossed, the fundamental questions of company life that we have answered from the perspective and experience of the 20th century will be transparently anachronistic.

Adam is manging director for Europe at Duke Corporate Education. To hear more from Adam, listen to episode 44 of the Future Talent Podcast

Duke Corporate Education