They're called Generation Y, the millennials, the Net Generation or the Echo Boomers. They're mostly younger than 30, and the children of baby boomers. And they're not easy to stimulate and satisfy in the workplace.
Neil Crawford, a human resources consultant with Aon Hewitt, says Gen Y employees have the lowest level of engagement within most organizations. They comprise only five to 20 per cent of workers in a typical organization, so workplace culture is usually more attuned to older employees.
Among other things, millennials become frustrated when technology at the office doesn't work as efficiently as the computers and smartphones they use as consumers. They also don't understand why employers treat devices such as laptops, which they consider essential tools, as perks restricted to senior employees.
Gen Ys have a high need for feedback and recognition from their bosses, says Mr. Crawford. "It's not just about stroking," he says. "Even if they're not performing well, they want to hear about it sooner rather than later."
Mr. Crawford advises that feedback be given every two or three months, either formally or informally. Traditionally, companies conduct performance reviews annually or semi-annually.
Employers have to do more in 2011 than they did in 1991 to create passion and loyalty among their young workers, says Monique Howat, a motivational expert in Toronto. Acknowledgment and support are the keys. "Each person's perception of the workplace is different, and you have to work with that. You have to see each person as an individual," Ms. Howat says.
Gen Ys expect to be consulted on decisions that affect them, not simply told the new rules that the higher-ups have set. "The best employer is saying, 'I don't have all the answers. I need to consult you,'" says Ms. Howat. That doesn't mean giving the millennials a veto over, say, a scheduling decision. But they can try to take their needs into account where possible.
ATB Financial, the Alberta financial institution, has aligned itself with Gen Y values. "Millennials expect us to listen to their voice," says Darleen Holroyd, senior manager, staffing and recruitment. "They expect us to get them more quickly into a leadership role."
So ATB runs a trainee program where new hires who show leadership potential (but lack front-line banking skills) can be trained and fast-tracked for branch manager or customer service supervisory positions.
"A lot of times [in the banking sector]there is the perception of a hierarchy you need to burrow up," says Ms. Holroyd. "In a smaller organization such as ours, we will take a leap of faith and put them in the right roles at a faster pace than they would typically see at the larger banks."
ATB also prides itself on offering employees who are not in customer-facing roles the flexibility of a virtual workplace. "We didn't install the technology to appeal to Gen Y but, as a bonus, it does," says Ms. Holroyd. ATB also encourages the use of social media. Its chief executive officer, Dave Mowat, leads the way with a Twitter account, and some of the branches have Facebook pages.
Large law firms try to stimulate their Gen Y practitioners by seconding them to client companies so they get a taste of how their legal advice affects the day-to-day operations of a business.
Derek Powers, an associate at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Toronto, was on the job for only nine months when, in the spring of 2009, he was seconded to a distribution company that had recently become a BLG client. This past summer, he participated in another secondment, this time with Loblaw Cos. Ltd.
"It's been a great way to start my career," says Mr. Powers, who was 29 when he did the first assignment. "It's rare that you get an opportunity to spend a significant amount of time with a client during your career-building years, and learn their business from the inside out."
Mr. Powers acknowledges that his generation is more likely to hop from job to job than previous generations. But he says opportunities such as client secondments provide motivation "to stay in one place for a significant period of time."
EllisDon Corp., the London, Ont.-based building contractor, gives its millennials more autonomy than they could expect at other construction outfits. "Construction is a pretty traditional industry, but we try to attack it in non-traditional ways," says Monica Darroch, human resources manager. "We have people at a very young age given a lot of responsibility."
Entry-level employees are usually hired through EllisDon's co-op program. By the time they join the firm on a full-time basis, they already understand what a project co-ordinator would do.
So it's not unusual when putting up, say, a multi-storey tower, for EllisDon to give a promising young employee sole responsibility for an entire storey.
"Because it's such a collaborative environment," says Ms. Darroch, "they're constantly getting feedback throughout the process" from their manager, the architects and the subcontractors. If all goes well, the millennial might then be given an even bigger chunk to manage on the next project, she says.