Generation X and Y: Who They Are and What They Want

Vol.8 No. 3: November 2008


 “The point is we have entered a new era and while employers need not react to every whim of a new generation, nor can they hold fast to the old and expect the emerging generations to conform. These new workplace entrants have had two decades of cultural shaping and there is little an employer can do to change this.”
Mark McCrindle, Psychologist and Social Researcher

Together, Generation X and Y make up over 40 per cent of the Australian population. Therefore, it is necessary to understand what makes these individuals tick. Generation Y were born into a world of rapid technological change and increased economic and social pressure while Generation X are well-educated and have huge buying power because of their reliance on credit cards. The nonprofit sector is facing unprecedented change in the demographics of its workforce and volunteer base. The style of management, the prevailing organisational culture and means of communication can all be adapted to meet the needs and desires of these two generations. The following looks specifically at how to engage Generation X and Y as nonprofit employees and volunteers.  

Boomers    1946-1954    42-60    5.3 million    17%
Generation X    1965-1981    27-41    4.4 million    21.5%
Generation Y    1982-2000    12-26    4.2 million    20.5%
Australian Bureau of Statistics Pyramid 2006 and McCrindle Research Study 2006

•    Have a desire to invest in their own development and employers need to cater for this
•    Rank constructive feedback, coaching and mentoring highly
•    Work/life balance is very important and a key strategy to retaining this generation in the workplace
•    Are the inclusive generation and place a lot of value on honesty, equality and ethics.

How to reach them:
•    Use the internet (bulletin boards, chat rooms, web sites and social networking) for recruitment
•    Communicate with them via email and text messaging
•    Highlight the need and the impact their volunteering will have.  They need to know what impact their volunteering will have
•    Limit the actual hours
•    Make it local not global.

What to offer:
•    Provide flexibility in the roles and schedules of volunteering opportunities
•    Provide a comfortable environment
•    Offer technology centered opportunities as well as one on one interaction to choose from
•    Provide information on what they will learn and gain from the particular volunteer experience.
•    Demand a fast-paced environment where creativity and independent thinking is encouraged.
•    Want growth and learning opportunities.
•    Want positive recognition for a job well-done
•    Value diversity of experiences.
•    Are seeking to translate their personal commitment to the social good into a positive work experience

In research undertaken by McCrindle and Associates there are five factors this generation takes into account when looking for a job.  Interestingly, salary does not even rate.

1.    Work/life balance. To generation Y their job is an important part of their life but it is not their life. Their jobs provide the means to fund their lifestyle. One quarter of respondents placed this at the top of their list.
Employer Implications:
•    Provide a collaborative learning environment based on teams
•    Ensure there are valid reasons underpinning work policies and ground rules
•    Provide a flexible workplace.

2.    The importance of a good work culture.  Forty two per cent of respondents place “relationships with peers” as one of the top three reasons for getting or keeping their job. A work environment where social interaction and collaboration was at the fore was highly regarded.
Employer Implications:
•    Generation Y’s are looking for a place to belong
•    There is less differentiation between work/life and social/life.

3.    Variety in job role. A job description that focuses on variety and the opportunity for advancement was important to nearly 40 per cent of those surveyed. 
Employer Implications:
Understand the revolving door process. If an employee leaves for a new job or further study, make the effort to keep in touch as they may return. This generation does not view leaving a job as an act of disloyalty, rather it is just part of life 
Provide responsibility and variety within the workplace.

4.    Management style. This generation’s ideal manager values communication, creates an environment of transparency, respects staff, is flexible and relies on consensus decision making.
Employer Implications:
According to the focus groups in the research, the ideal leader:
•    Gives public affirmation
•    Remembers the names and personal interests of their staff
•    Creates a work environment that is friendly and collegial.

5.    Training. Nearly 80 per cent of respondents said that career development through additional training is very important to them. Nearly 90 percent said that the provision of regular training would motivate them to stay longer with an employer.
Employer Insight:
•    The preferred area of training is in “soft” areas like presentation skills, management and communication skills
•    The method of training preferred includes coaching/mentoring as well as in-house or outsourced training courses. Online learning as a method of training rated poorly.

How to reach them:
•    Change the language and do not refer to them as kids and children.  Use terms like ‘young people’, ‘youth’ and ‘young adults’
•    Utilise peer-to-peer recruitment
•    Use media such as the internet, radio and MTV.

What to offer:
•    Create meaningful positions with real responsibilities
•    Provide opportunities for leadership and leadership development
•    Design the opportunities so that more than one young person can take part. Peer interaction is important.

Volunteering Western Australia

Australian Bureau of Statistics

“New Generations At Work – Attracting, Recruiting, Retraining and Training Gen Y”