Y Gen Y? This is Y…

(L to R) Simon Kuestenmacher, Consultant, Demographics and Nathan Sowel, Analyst, Corporate Finance, Infrastructure and Projects Group
(L to R) Simon Kuestenmacher, Consultant, Demographics and Nathan Sowell, Analyst, Corporate Finance, Infrastructure and Projects Group
Apparently, because we were born between 1981 and 1999, we are millennials. We are also called Generation Y, which makes more sense because when we look at how businesses are structured, we wonder Y?

We are said to be “entitled”, “entrepreneurial”, “impatient”, and “social media savvy”. Employers sense that we have something to give but they don’t understand us:

Why did you show up at 10am?
You want to work from a café?
You think you are ready to lead a team?
Where’s your tie?

If companies could survive without us, many happily would. But they can’t.

By 2025, millennials will represent a staggering 42 percent* of the Australian workforce. Millennials will also be the largest consumer-base for most industries and companies can’t sell to people they don’t understand, so they are compelled to understand us.

Companies ask millennials to manage their social media. They want us to catch customers’ attention and they want us to apply new ideas but still work within the old model.

Millenials question the status quo: this creates friction.

Millennials sense how fast the old model is becoming outdated. Population growth, emerging technologies and environmental change are changing the world faster than ever before. No one knows what the future will look like, but millennials sense the rapid change resulting from our values.

We are embracing the sharing economy and choose to opt out of owning assets, we yearn to introduce mindfulness and co-operation to our jobs. Our generation’s sense for equality already results in large environmental and equal rights legislations. Change is happening but we want it to happen faster. As a result, we are impatient and question the status quo.

Why do I have to work from the office?
Why can’t I do this in a more efficient way?
Why don’t those being led choose who leads them?
Why do I need approval to test out a new idea?

Millennials are strong

As every generation before us, we disrupt and reinvent Australian business culture as soon as we rise above the most junior positions in the workforce. This time around, hierarchies, time sheets, job titles and corner offices will have to go. Anything else that cannot justify ‘Y’ it exists will go, along with them. We grew up with short-term contracts, travelled for our education and started work during the global financial crisis. This reinforced the entrepreneurial nature of us.

We can handle uncertain environments and are willing to step into unexplored territories. These qualities will enable us to develop organisations that will thrive in the sea of change.

And we prefer not to jump ship. When we are emotionally invested we stay loyal to our company. We utilise our social networks to help fulfill the purpose of the company. We collaborate with other corporations to fulfill the project goals and we are extremely flexible. Our flexibility will be crucial in navigating a hyper-networked fast paced age.

Flattening hierarchies and integrating us into inter-generational leadership teams will allow organisations to benefit from millennials’ strengths. Business offering such work environments will attract the smartest, most innovative and most disruptive. And they will thrive.

Business simply offering generous salaries will get stuck with the millennials happy to follow in the footsteps of the previous generations. Such organisations will be unable to disrupt markets, to innovate and to be true market leaders.

We will change the world in collaboration with older generations

The tides of change are rolling in. The momentum created by disruptive technologies, emerging markets and shifting values require business to adapt or die.

Millennials have the pent up energy, when channeled into creative and engaging work, to undertake enormous organisational change. Millennials’ desire to co-operate rather than compete feels like softness to older generations but it will enable us change the business world without demolishing previous successes.

So invest us emotionally and give us the autonomy to pursue work we are passionate about. Provide us with the training, opportunity and feedback necessary to master our skills. Most importantly, ensure the company’s purpose resonates through every aspect of our job.

Together, we can create great intergenerational workplaces in which every generation will thrive.

* KPMG Demographics based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics

29 thoughts on “Y Gen Y? This is Y…

  1. Great article that provides a Gen Y view of the current situation. Questioning the status quo is needed for progress. Generations before the Gen Y have done this – hence the progress to todays digital/information age. “Millenials are strong” – I would argue they are no stronger than previous generations (think about the anti-establishment counter-culture revolution of 1960s which fought for human sexuality, women’s rights, traditional modes of authority). As a generation that is growing up in a different environment (created by the generations before them) the Millennials are asserting themselves to create “their” environment which they will bequeath to the next generation. All power to you, the Millennials – just don’t forget to acknowledge that you are building this future on the foundation laid by the previous generations.

    1. Eloquently stated! Millennials need folk like you with the perspective to bridge the gap between us and previous generations. What are some key ways in which Millennials are not acknowledging those who came before us? If we understand your perspective better, we can better respect and work with others.

  2. Great discussion! People can like or dislike gen Y. The simple truth is change or die. A study from the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University estimates that 40 percent of today’s F500 companies on the S&P 500 will no longer exist in 10 years. There are a lot of people who thought their way of doing business was the best way are no longer in business. And you can expect all new ideas to work. The Silicon Valley mindset is Fail Fast, Fail Often. If you are not driving innovation, not taking risks, not trying new ideas to see what work and what doesn’t, you are wrong.

    I’m impressed that KPMG is having such a great internal discussion. Keep it up and you will create a very valuable key differentiator above your competition. Like it or not, long term survival depends on it.

    1. Simon Kuestenmacher

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      I agree, established organisations will need to utilise the inherent entrepreneurial spirit of their Gen Y staff to stay relevant. They have to reimagine their business model, service offering and internal structure. This will not be an easy task, especially for large successful companies and industries. A good start would be to analyse the values their current employees hold and try to reimagine the collective business purpose based on these values.

    2. It would be an interesting exercise to select a handful of successful companies and predict why they will not exist in 10 years.

  3. Hi guys, great read and insights.
    As a Gen X who had to reinvent from Old Media to New Media nine years ago to stay professionally relevant, I look forward to the next wave sweep through management.
    I worked with a lot of great Gen Y kids who loved my war stories and eventually got used to my old-school managerial style while teaching me so much about working and networking in the 21st century. Some of them could be a bit precious but that is an age thing, not a generational quality.
    I now work for an iconic organisation that has an admirably open attitude to new ways of doing business and I feel like a bridge between the old and the new: IMHO Gen Xers should appreciate being in this position and help bring about the new order.
    Disclaimer: my wife is Gen Y so maybe I’m a bit biased!

    1. I appreciate people like you who can teach Gen Y how to communicate and interact with older generations. Sometimes, we simply don’t know that we’re coming off as rude and disrespectful. I also like how you distinguish between generational vs age qualities. It’s easy to forget that we acted the exact same as young people when we were at that age. A month ago, I went to Tonga my 17 year old brother, and I found myself shaking my head at stuff he did …. only to later remember doing the exact same thing at his age.

  4. I have been asked all of these questions by my team (old & young) and here’s my standard answers.
    Why do I have to work from the office? you can work elsewhere sometimes but not all of the time. come to the office so we can talk and work collaboratively
    Why can’t I do this in a more efficient way? go for it
    Why don’t those being led choose who leads them? because this workplace is not a democracy it is a meritocracy.
    Why do I need approval to test out a new idea? so we dont waste our limited resources. any cost blowouts will need to be filled in somehow (e.g. out of your next pay rise)

    1. I love that you made this into a discussion with your team. Sounds like you’re saying the level of approval needed should depend on the resources the idea would require. Makes sense!

      Is there a good way to compare the opportunity cost of not going after ideas to the resources wasted by going after ideas and failing? Where is the right balance?

  5. This post has started a vibrant discussion about Gen Y in our team.. interesting stuff!
    I’d be interested to know how this notion of Gen Y compares to Gen Yers of other cultures, in China for example.

    1. Really keen to hear the answer on this one – not something I’ve thought about, but could be a really interesting comparison!

    2. That’s what we were going for! What’s the discussion about? I’d love to see some dissenting views.

      I don’t have insight into China, but I’m from and worked in Texas. The Gen Y characteristics are a little exaggerated in the US compared to Australia due to the worse effects of the GFC there. Many of us started our careers during the GFC. My friends back home view themselves as quasi self-employed. They want to gain experience and skills in order to ensure their hire-ability / personal marketability. There’s not a lot of trust in company loyalty to employees once times get bad. It’s all about the bottom-line!

    3. Simon Kuestenmacher

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      Its fair to say that generations are more homogenous now than they were a few decades ago. Many millennials around the globe consume the same media and use the same products and technologies. This allows a whole international generation to be partially shaped by the same drivers. Gen Y also has a more international perspective than previous generations. However local events strongly shape the perspective of Gen Y in each country (i.e. Spain’s youth unemployment of 50%).

  6. You KILLED it! As a 33 year old business owner, with one employee who is 55 years old, another who is 27 years old, and 3 CSU interns, I’m torn between satisfying the needs, wants, and environment of the previous generations and the young hip innovative millennials. I feel like I’m torn between entirely different worlds way of thinking in the business place. This certainly helped me have a clearer perspective and understanding of the Y Gen.
    Love, your sister!
    P.S.: Ladies, he’s single!

  7. You are both spot on with so much of this. I particularly identify with the comment regarding the use of our personal social networks for the benefit of the company.

    I have done this many times and to great extent, in just the few years I have been working. It wasn’t hard either, in fact when I saw the opportunity it was instinctive. The benefit of this to my company in its times of need is hard to overstate.

    However, do you think that these instinctive qualities that you mention will be abused by employers? I have noticed that many older co-workers seem to take the auxiliaries I provide for granted. Despite having saved their backsides a number of times, they would never go to the same lengths for the company.

    Are our positive qualities recieved in the same good faith they are given or just as owed-debt to pay off our reported negatives?

    1. I have had similar experiences. When people see me working on auxiliaries, they often assume I am not dedicated to the “core” work. As a result, I pay extra attention to my “core” work when I am also working on auxiliaries to avoid this scrutiny. It’s a bit exhausting, but they did not hire me to do social media or develop entrepreneurship programs (my side project). Some employers don’t really want innovative employees. They want employees who do their job well. The objective is to find the bosses who can see the big picture and how your auxiliaries fit into it!

      Also, the benefits of auxiliaries are often hard to measure. If you can somehow measure the benefit your social media activities, it may help them appreciate your work.

    2. Simon Kuestenmacher

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      Employers who take Gen Y’s personal networking activities for granted risk losing valued staff members as well as their valuable networks. Employers need to acknowledge in a meaningful way their staff’s willingness / instinct to utilise their personal networks for work. Worst case is an employer who isn’t even aware of your efforts. They are sure to lose many Gen Y staff members over time…

  8. I think you have hit upon an important cultural truth. And that is that social cultural and technological change is afoot and Gen Y being the youngest generation in the workforce must be most adept at responding to these challenges. This willingness to accept change can be misinterpreted by older generations. But the reality is that young workers have no choice other than to accept and to manage change. Boomers should be thankful that young workers are in fact so responsive. Having said that there is also place in the workforce for respect for experience 🙂

    1. Bernard – thanks for the comment. What are the main ways in which millennials do not show respect for experience? If we understand what others find disrespectful, we can tailor our approach better.

  9. Natalie Passafaro

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    Funny you mentioned that Gen Y prefer not to jump ship, I have always heard we tend to change jobs fairly frequently. How do you think we compare to other generations in terms of job-hopping and career changes?

    1. Simon Kuestenmacher

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      I think Gen Y does jump ship more frequently than older generations. I argue that this is the case because many organisations don’t provide a clear purpose. Retaining staff will be very hard for businesses who cannot offer Gen Y such purpose. Businesses will need to reassess their own purpose and let their direction be adjusted from within. I suggest internal inter-generational leadership teams are the best mechanism to do so.

    2. You’re right – we change jobs more than the generations before us. The average worker stays at a job for 4.4 years on average, while millennials expect to stay at a job less than 3 years. However, I feel like this is more out of necessity than desire. What do you think?

    3. It’s true that Gen Y does change jobs fairly frequently, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that it is a choice. The days of a “job for life” are long gone, and that’s not entirely the fault of employees.

      Loyalty is a two-way street, and if employers see their staff as a fungible resource then employees will see their paymasters in the same way. If staff feel that they’re a quarter away from being downsized, they will go looking for a place where they can work without that non-job related stressor.

      If we look at the engagement people have with brands that they support, loyalty is still a strong principle among people today. Social media has allowed customers to become brand advocates with a reach that a few decades ago would have required a six-figure budget and the influence of a massive firm, and those brands aren’t even paying for those marketing efforts.

      Give those same people an opportunity to apply that same passion full time and reward them for those efforts, in terms of remuneration and social/mental engagement, and you see something akin to the startup culture of Silicon Valley.

      If that line of work is being made obsolete due to advancement, rather than railing against change and trying to use legislation or other protectionist methods to preserve a less effective industry Gen Y will instead find ways to live and thrive in the new economy. Change isn’t necessarily a lack of commitment, it can also be adaptability.

      1. Simon Kuestenmacher

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        Well said, Alan. I like how you pointed out that Gen Y is very loyal to companies that share the same values (Patagonia, Zappos, Apple, Ben & Jerries come to mind). A company opening itself up for a discussion about how to align its values with their staff’s values will indeed be rewarded with a loyal and extremely committed workforce like you see in Silicon Valley!

  10. Such a good twist – just when the baby boomer in me despairs, you turn all the angst into a positive. Love your work.

  11. Thought this was a really great article guys, nice to see something a little more positive than the usual “Gen Y are Selfish Lazy Narcissists” headlines.

    Funnily enough, as a Gen Y myself, it’s easy to see how “entrepreneurial”, “impatient”, and “social media savvy” can be turned into positive characteristics in the workplace – maybe I’m biased though!

    1. Simon Kuestenmacher

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      Thank you for the kind words Petra. Gen Y will shape their workplaces according to their values. Since we got collaboration running through our veins we should push for inter-generational communication channels at our workplaces. How else can businesses get ready for Gen Y?

    2. Thanks, Petra! I agree – our qualities are great for the workplace. I can’t wait to work in millennial-run organisations that focus on providing employees with purpose, autonomy and mastery.

      I always laugh at the “Selfish Lazy Narcissists” headlines. It’s all about perspective! Are we the problem, or is the old-school way of managing the problem? We are considered selfish because we are not loyal to companies who will lay us off during the next recession. We are considered lazy because we are motivated by purpose instead of money and titles. We are considered narcissists because we develop a personal brand in order to be marketable and employable in an environment where companies come and go.

      I feel for employers who became successful within the current system. If I were them, I probably wouldn’t appreciate people trying to rock the boat I’ve worked so hard to build. They’d prefer us to conform to the status-quo. However, that’s hard for us to do when we see the status quo drastically changing in the next decade.

      What’s one thing your company could change that’d make you want to work there indefinitely?

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