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How to Keep Your Gen Y Employees: It’s Not What You Think

Generation Y. Born between 1979 and 1992, what these new entrants into the US workforce want to do is hide behind their smartphones while earning a high salary, right? Wrong.

Although Gen Y has grown up with the internet, cell phones and social networks, those aren’t the reasons why they greatly differ from those who have entered the workforce before them. If you want to recruit and engage this generation – which will comprise half the US workforce by 2020 (CNN) – you need to make an effort to understand what motivates them and what makes them loyal to their employers. Hint: it’s not salary.

Previous Generations

Baby boomers have been dominating workplace culture for years, and their priorities have influenced how businesses think, operate, and communicate. According to research from Johnson Controls, baby boomers consider work “an exciting adventure;” they value salary and formal recognition, they “work to live,” and then are motivated by the message “You are valued and needed.”

  • CNN estimates that baby boomers currently make up half of the working population of the US – but as noted above, that balance is about to shift rapidly.

Following baby boomers are the members of Generation X who most likely occupy senior management positions today. They consider work to be “a difficult challenge or contract.” They want structure and direction in their work environment, prefer direct, immediate communications, and are motivated by the message “Do it your way.”

How is Gen Y Different?

Generation Y takes a very different attitude towards their work as compared to their predecessors. For them, work is “fulfillment.” They value doing meaningful work and are motivated by collaborating with other bright, creative people.  What this group of workers wants most is the opportunity for professional and personal growth, a clear, achievable career path, and frequent recognition and feedback.

The  Achievers Class of 2012 survey rated the following as the most important factors that members of Gen Y consider in deciding where to work:

  • Career advancement opportunities: 54%
  • Interesting, challenging work: 51%
  • Salary: 51%
  • Training/mentorship: 31%

Johnson Controls concludes in their study: “The working environment of the Generation Y is a place they emotionally engage with, a space where they socialize in with other co-workers and a space which supports their health and well-being,”

And according to Business.com, “80% of Millennials prefer to receive feedback in real-time. They want open, honest, and timely communication regarding their performance, and an opportunity to ask questions and receive encouragement as needed…. Rather than being based on seniority or length of tenure at the company, they prefer that recognition programs or rewards be based on performance.”

If you want to keep your Gen Y employees loyal and satisfied, you need to understand how they differ from previous generations in their desires and motivations. Frequent informal feedback, collaborative work styles, opportunities for learning and advancement, and meaningful work far outweigh more tangible rewards like salary and benefits. The best of Gen Y have measurable, valuable skills to bring on board with your company – but what they want in return is the opportunity to utilize and advance those skills to the fullest.

Bio: Megan Webb-Morgan is a business blogger for business-to-business lead generation provider Resource Nation. Follow Resource Nation on Facebook and Twitter for the latest small business and startup news and advice.