Gen Y employees have long called lazy, inefficient and picky. However, not all employers feel the same way. Some HR practitioners say motivating this group of workers is all about knowing which buttons to push. Here they share ways on working to the beat of this new generation. By Lisa Cheong
In the height of scuttling petrol hikes six months ago, Lim Kok Hin, senior director and general manager of Canon Singapore’s business imaging solutions group came up with an idea. By allowing sales staff to head out to meet their clients in the morning without having to check-in at the Harbourfront office, he would help them save on fuel while saving on time and distance travelled.
After consulting his managers, many were afraid that employees would abuse the system by concocting fake meetings first thing in the morning. One proposal to tackle the possible abuse included a telecommunications device which tracked the employees’ whereabouts to confirm that they were at the designated meeting.
“But after hearing and learning more about Generation Y, I thought it wasn’t a good idea, as it showed a lack of trust in them. They [Gen Y] are individualistic, and this may make them feel hemmed in. So [the idea] may do more harm than good.” Eventually, Lim called the idea to track employees’ whereabouts off, saying that the company would rather trust that its employees honour their off-site morning meetings.
Generation Y employees (loosely defined as those born between 1978 to 1995) have been infiltrating the office cubicles for some time now. While many line managers and HR practitioners are struggling in managing this new breed of workers - dismissing them as lazy, disloyal to companies and incapable of performing mundane tasks. But other companies have taken a different approach, applying a new style of management to make the most out of this new breed of employees.
Before HR practitioners can learn how to better manage this group of employees effectively, Stephen Tjoa, executive HR director of KPMG Singapore says they should be careful of pigeonholing every employee. Gen Y employees comprise of nearly 75% out of the 2,100 headcount in KPMG.
While Lim admits that older line managers do complain to him about the younger workers in his work. But after researching and learning about Gen Y employees, Lim says a positive mindset is needed to see the good attributes of Gen Y and galvanize upon those positive traits.
Statement: “Generation Y asks too many questions!”
With local universities shifting its focus on producing a well-rounded education instead of providing mere technical skills, this group of employees are currently the most educated generation of workers.
HR practitioners admit that Gen Ys expect a greater level of communication from their line managers and their companies. Not only do they expect their employers to be honest and open, but they expect to be “instrumental in shaping the outcome of the feedback”, Tjoa says. This style of communication is a contrast from the previous generations, as older workers tend to accept the information as it is provided for and not question status quo. Older workers may not also view as providing feedback to their company as essential to their work, Tjoa adds.
“They’re a questioning generation, and I think it is a very good thing because it challenges convention,” Tjoa adds. “It keeps management on their toes as well, because it is all about making sure that they are in touch with the new generation.”
Nicolas Pauthier, HR director of ASEAN for L’Oreal Singapore says employees want line managers to play a more consultative role, instead of merely telling subordinates what to do. Lim concurs, adding that communication tools such as podcasts (which appeal to Gen Y’s tech-savviness) may soon become the defacto way for employees to communicate in the future
Statement: Gen Ys are lazy!
Because of the changing way Gen Y views company loyalty and how work should loyalty and the way they want to work differs from different generations, Pauthier says it may be true that Gen Y employees could come across as lazy due to the lack of motivating and interesting work. On the flip side, Pauthier says Gen Y employees will work faster and put in longer hours when they are engaged by their work.
“If they are lazy, it means that they do not enjoy their job,” he adds. Pauthier also goes on to say that Gen Y employees also want to have room for work flexibility - putting in long hours one day, but going home early the next.
Statement: Gen Y employees are proud!
“Being proud is not a bad thing, in sales,” says Lim. Instead of viewing pride as a negative trait, Lim says Gen Y employees who are proud are simply ambitious workers who take pride in their work.
Statement: Gen Y employees are too high-maintenance!
“Yes, we invest a lot more time [with Gen Y] in listening - which is not necessary a bad thing,” Tjoa says. He says that when HR practitioners listen and you are open to new ideas, the company benefits as well.
Tjoa cites a Global People Survey (GPS) conducted by KPMG every two years which looks at life at the firm from various angles such as work-life and L&D. The information that is gathered from the GPS helps the company understand its employees better and help roll out initiatives that “augur well with the new thinking and mindset”.
Some of the more critical initiatives they have rolled out include an aggressive mobility programme, which were a result of feedback from younger employees who say they want international exposure. “So there is a doubling, and tripling of efforts with regards to seconding people to places regionally and internationally.”
Tjoa admits that mobility programmes are of “significant investment” due to costs rising from relocation and the various tax exposures. However, because the programme was decided by the global office, Tjoa says the firm benefits from gaining employees who are not only technically qualified, but culturally qualified to work in different business environments.
Money is not the be-all, end-all
All three interviewees agreed that in the minds of Gen Y, career development and flexibility in their career are more important than a large compensation & benefits package.
And that is something which L’Oreal tries to promote within its organisation. While 40% of the 200-headcount are under 28, Pauthier says 70% of that group are holding managerial positions within the company.
Furthermore, with the 26 brands under the conglomerate’s helm, Pauthier says the company has opportunities for growth and acceleration. This means when a fresh graduate joins the company, the average span in which they can expect to become manager is between five to seven years. Pauthier adds that the average worldwide age of a L’Oreal general manager is 32 - with ten to twelve years of experience under the general manager’s belt.
“They want to develop themselves as fast as possible, and they want to experience new challenges every two years.” Hence, Pauthier says the company aims to provide employees with new challenges every 18 to 24 months. The company also provides the flexibility of allowing employees to move either vertically or horizontally within the company as well.
Creative work is also a motivating force, says Lim, adding that Gen Y typically doesn’t like jobs that are mundane in nature.
In Tjoa’s opinion, the idea of “creativity” is defined differently depending on the context. And due to the nature of the audit business, one would assume that there is little room for creativity due to the structured methodologies and approaches. “But what is different about it is that creativity in our context means the ability to innovate, contribute new ways, approaches and comments about the way of doing things. You could be performing the same structured approach, but you are providing new perspectives to it.”
Tjoa attributes the creative thinking in employees to the evolved learning & development sessions, a shift from the traditional classroom top-down teaching style which is considered outdated. “Most of the classes here are taught in a forum-style. It’s a lot of general discussions, looking at case studies and contributing innovative ideas to problems.”
Pauthier also adds that having a strong sense of ethical and corporate values in organisations, such as sustainable development and corporate social responsibility projects.
One of the examples Pauthier cites is by promoting sustainable development within its factories and communicating those efforts to its employees as well. “We realise that it is important for our employees to know that we are responsible, not only as an employer but a company as well.”
The two-way street requires a bit of understanding
When it comes to a new-style management, what sort of a compromise do managers and employees have to reach?
For one, Pauthier says a new style of management is needed in order to manage Gen Y. Hence, the company is preparing to organise a half-day workshop for its line managers to highlight some key points on managing Gen Y employees. But the company shys away from making clear distinctions from this age demographic compared to the rest of the workforce, adding that it not about singling Gen Y out and giving them more leeway than the rest of the employees.
“It doesn’t mean that Gen Ys are the new bosses of the company. It is all about trying to find the right balance between managing Gen Y’s expectations, but at the same time, managing the business and the business’ expectations,” Pauthier says.
For one, Lim says the one-size policy cannot be used to manage employees in the company anymore. However, this is a challenge when it comes to Japanese companies, where there are certain unwritten rules embedded in the company culture. (One such rule is that a subordinate cannot buy a more expensive car than what his boss owns.)
But one effort Lim made was when he contacted Ogilvy Public Relations (the company’s contracted PR firm) for a CD which talked about Generation Y. Lim screened it to his line managers in a bid to help foster a new understanding in the new management style.
Line managers aren’t the only people who have to adapt to a new management style, as HR practitioners say Gen Y employees need to step up to the plate as well. According to Tjoa, Generation Y employees need to understand that they belong in organisations here there are several generations of employees working under one roof.
In addition, Tjoa says the company recruits Gen Y who have a high degree of alignment to the core values of the firm – respect for one another, caring for community and open and honest communication. “So in a way, even when recruiting the new generation of people, they seem to somehow resemble the people we are used to all these years.”
In a pragmatic fashion, Lim says it is better that companies understand the new generation in order to galvanize and tap into their strengths, like their innovation and ambition. “The reality is that we need Gen Y, and more of them will join us. So what better way to galvanize their power by understanding them and by learning what makes them tick.”