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How to engage Generation Y at work


Do Generation Y employees really deserve their reputation? We often hear Gen Y described as flighty. Unreliable. An overly large sense of entitlement. We wanted to find out how widespread that perception is, so we spoke to Adam (not his real name), an assistant manager at a Canberra-based childcare centre. Adam works with a large contingent of Gen Y employees. He challenged a few myths — and shared some great tips for getting the most from younger team members.easyEMPLOYER: Adam, how would you describe your typical Gen Y employee?

Adam: Well, contrary to what a lot of people believe about them, they generally feel very passionately about a lot of things. They choose to work in childcare where the pay is not nearly as good. You could do a quick barista course and in a couple of weeks, be working in a café, getting better hourly rates, in a funkier scene. A lot of these guys choose to come and work in childcare because they really like the interaction with kids.

Sometimes that passion can come across as being a little bit sullen. If you push them to share too much, too soon, they can get a bit defensive: ‘Now you’ve made me spill my heart.’

EE: So how do you get their input?

Adam: What’s worked well is where we put the question out there, and give them ways to provide input, like with graffiti walls where they can come up and write a comment anonymously. We keep asking them questions in this way, and via email. Basically we just keep prodding them with questions until they feel like they’re up to talking about it.

EE: What are the other communications challenges you face with Gen Y Employees?

Adam: They’re generally less bonded with the industry and with the concepts we use, so they’re less likely to read the new policy you’ve just put out. They’re more likely to glaze over if the information gets too heavy.

EE: How do you get around that?

Adam: I’ve asked them how they’d like to receive their information, and it keeps coming back to email. They like to scan, and look at the subject lines. So If I’m sending out notes with the roster, I’ll bold each title. If anything needs reinforcing, I’ll either highlight or underline in the notes next to it. And if I find myself writing a whole paragraph, I really just have to strip that right back.

EE: Does that help?

Adam: Yeah, I notice a marked difference when I have time to really highlight what’s important. The Gen Y staff come up and tell me they appreciate it.

EE: What about rostering? What challenges do you face there?

Adam: Our Generation Y staff tend to be less communicative about when they’re going to be away. Every now and then, someone will call on Sunday night, telling you that they can’t do Monday morning, and you’ve got to try and find somebody to replace them. It’s 10.00 at night and you have to find someone for a 7:15 start. Often that person ends up being me. Which isn’t great for my organisation, because they need to pay me a lot more than they’d pay one of our junior staff.

Other times, you’ve texted five of your best people and all of a sudden, they all say ‘yes.’ Then you have to say no, because you’ve worked down the list, and rostered on someone who’s less than ideal.

EE: Do you have any solutions for engaging Gen Y staff around rostering?

Adam: You just have to be really explicit and seek confirmation that things have been read and understood. Because Gen Y staff tend to engage with information in that fleeting manner, it can often lead to gaps in the system.

So whenever we send out the roster, we ask them to confirm the specific dates that they’re available. You get an email back, saying ‘yes, I’m available’, and you go back to them to say ‘yes, thanks for confirming, but what dates are you confirming for?’

What can you take away?

Listening to Adam’s story, the main points for engaging Generation Y are:

  • Gen Y staff work to live, so sometimes they put their personal lives above work without thinking about the consequences. Rather than be upset about it, give them an easy way to update you on their availability. Let them move shifts around without it causing headaches.
  • Don’t push Gen Ys to engage. Give them time to warm up. Build a relationship with them and help them to feel confident about sharing their input, thoughts and opinions with you. Create multiple opportunities to express their views, so they can choose the time that works best for them.
  • Present Gen Ys with information in an easy-to-digest format, to cater for fragmented attention spans. Keep it simple, short and preferably via email or SMS. This gives them space to digest the information in their own time. Where it’s vital to confirm that information has been read and understood, seek explicit confirmation. Don’t just assume your information was read.
  • Ask your Gen Ys for their input on how things could be done differently – or better. They have a new, fresh and unique way of looking at the old ways of doing business and you can use this to your advantage.

If you want to find out more about how your staff management system can help you engage your Gen-Y employees, sign up for our Health Check. Normally valued at $1495 we are offering it free for a limited time to our blog readers.