How to Get (and Keep) Gen-Y Talent

Offering flex-time hours and effusive praise will make younger employees want to work for you.
Business and Workplace Author, Speaker, and Consultant, AlexandraLevit.com
October 11, 2012

Members of Generation Y are desperate for jobs.  

Born after 1979, most have come of age during the recession, and their professional opportunities have been limited. Payscale, a provider of compensation data and software, and Millennial Branding, a Gen-Y research company led by personal branding expert Dan Schawbel, recently found that in general, Gen Y is unemployed and underemployed at a greater rate than the rest of the working population.

Gen Y Goes Retail

The research showed that although those in Gen Y admire companies such as Qualcomm, Google, Medtronic, Intel and Microsoft, they aren't holding out for jobs that would use advanced skills such as data analysis and social media optimization, opting instead to take lower-skilled jobs to pay the rent. In 2012, many Gen Y college grads hold either full or part-time jobs as retail floor clerks and sales associates.

They Do It Their Way

While they may be working at the mall now, Generation Y entrepreneurial ambitions. According to a recent study from freelancing website Elance, Gen Y workers are embracing the freelance lifestyle at a faster rate than their older peers.  And Schawbel and his colleagues uncovered that the third most-popular major for Gen Y college students was entrepreneurial studies. 

The Smaller, The Better

While starting their own companies may not be practical for most right now, the Payscale/Millennial Branding research showed that Gen Y-ers prefer smaller companies. The highest concentration of Gen Y workers (47 percent) are at small companies with fewer than 100 employees, followed by midsize companies with fewer than 1,500 employees (30 percent). 

Retention is King

So bringing them in isn’t a problem, but keeping them is. Gen Y workers are still known for being job hoppers, and encouraging top talent to stick around is a challenge for many resource-strapped owners. I tapped Shirley Engelmeier, CEO of InclusionINC and author of Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage, for suggestions about how to make your small business more Gen Y-friendly.  Here, some of her top tips:

1. Flatten the hierarchical structure. Facilitate collaboration with other colleagues across departments and job titles.  Don’t insist that they jump through hoops in order to communicate with you. 

2. Offer lattice opportunities. Allow Gen Y employees to contribute to various parts of the business outside of their job descriptions so that they can round out their skill sets and discover the work that’s most meaningful to them.

3. Leverage disruptive technology. View the use of new and, in some cases, extreme technology as a catalyst to improve the current state of business.  Gen Y is the most adept at using technology to solve business problems, so let them!

 4. Be open to flex-time. Gen Y is hard-working, but they don’t let the typical 9-to-5 hours define their dedication to the job. They may need some time off in the middle of the week, but they’ll put in the hours over the weekend to make up for it.

 5. Openly praise their contributions. Gen Y workers value real-time, public accolades for terrific job performance as highly as a promotion or a raise.

Read more Culture Beat columns.  

Alexandra Levit is a former nationally-syndicated business and workplace columnist for The Wall Street Journal and the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. Money magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year, she regularly speaks at organizations and conferences on issues facing modern employees.