Companies & Industries

Netting the Net Generation


Generation Y, the Millenials—no matter what you call them you'll need to know how to recruit and retain today's top young performers

Today's prize recruits are the bright young people who have grown up with new technology, who network and collaborate, and who respond instinctively to the demands of business in the Internet age. Rather than being driven by the prospect of lifetime employment at a company, they crave learning opportunities and an exciting, fast-paced environment.

They are variously referred to as Generation Y, the Millennials, or the Net Generation to reflect what makes them really different. They can come from anywhere in the world, and employers are finding that attracting and retaining them can be challenging.

Higher Demands, Greater Expectations

The first challenge: There are simply not enough members of this generation to go around. In developed countries, there are fewer young people today than there were in previous generations, and not enough with the right skills, experience, and education to meet the demand created by the worldwide economic growth of recent years.

Competition is growing fierce; for example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that 300,000 of the new information technology jobs created in the past 10 years will go unfilled. In India, the National Association of Software & Service Companies has predicted a shortfall of 500,000 professionals in the IT sector by 2010.

Second, the Net Generation's workplace values and expectations differ from those of older generations. For example, they tend to have a more free-spirited approach to work. They have high expectations for rapid career growth, greater demands for work/life balance, and the need for clear and frequent performance feedback, all of which may be new to their managers.

So how do you make your organization attractive to these people—and how do you hang on to them once you've hired them? Among the things you need to consider: Does your company present the same image internally as it does externally? What is your commitment to corporate social responsibility? And does your company live the values it espouses? Employees want to feel they are working for a company that has integrity, cares about society and the environment, and will keep its word, both to employees and to customers.

Stay Ahead of the Word of Mouth

Because this generation uses all forms of electronic and print media to explore, scrutinize, and communicate, technological savvy is important in appealing to them. For example, the U.S. Army uses electronic gaming examples to attract recruits. Their Web site offers games such as Army Target Practice, Patriot Missile System, and Blackhawk Challenge that enable recruits to simulate Army missions. Companies similarly are exploring environments such as Second Life as a channel to attract young recruits.

Word of mouth is still the strongest recruiting tool, and it has become especially important when dealing with a group that has such a strong propensity to share opinions and experiences so freely through technology. Pay attention to sites such as Vault.com to see what employees and potential employees are really saying about your company, or what is being said on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Also, make sure you are accessible and presenting a consistent brand image across these channels, and make your Web sites interesting and compelling.

However, don't assume this technologically sophisticated generation is made up of solitary video game players. Generation Y is highly relationship-oriented and uses a wide range of media and technology to connect with others. They expect to experience this in the workplace as well. Give them opportunities to engage and share ideas and to work on new things. Traditional behaviors that define power as possession of knowledge to be doled out sparingly are anathema, and failing to encourage openness and the sharing of information will turn this generation off.

Job-Hopping is Common

What is also clear about members of this generation is they are hungry not merely for knowledge, but for opportunity and the kind of feedback that will help them develop their skills. Giving them clear guidance on their career paths and options will help keep them engaged. Similarly, rich learning opportunities and training delivered in creative ways and using the many different channels available such as podcasts, e-learning, and simulations is important.

Their loyalty is strengthened by timely, open, and honest course correction that occurs on a continuing basis, not just once a year. This may require some updating of the counseling and performance management skills of your line management, and perhaps the performance management processes themselves. Young people have less patience, and job-hopping is prevalent; help prevent it by giving them the chance to soar inside your own organization.

The Hunger for Fun

One final expectation I have observed among Generation Y is they expect to have fun at work. Fun is one of the most important and neglected drivers of engagement in the workplace, so take advantage of the hunger for it.

In today's war for talent, attracting and keeping members of the Net Generation requires new mindsets and capabilities, and often means managers on the front lines need to acquire some new skills to keep this generation engaged.

And bear in mind if you're going to all this trouble for Generation Y, why not do it for everyone? The hallmark of a high-performing organization is that it gets the best out of everyone who works for it, and it looks like Generation Y has as much to teach us as we have to teach them.

Peter Cheese is the managing director responsible for Accenture's Talent Organization Performance practice, which focuses on talent management, the human resources function, and organization and change management.

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