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Retaining Your Generation Y Workers: Now is Not the Time for Complacency
By Joanne G. Sujansky
Sep 19, 2002 - 3:37:00 PM

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In this time of economic downturn, some managers feel they can stop worrying about retaining employees. However, these complacent managers may get a rather rude awakening courtesy of a group of workers just beginning to enter the workforce - Generation Y.

For those of you not familiar, Generation Y is the group born between 1977 and 1994. From the beginning, they presented a new challenge for managers. They brought to the workplace computer skills and an entrepreneurial mindset that sometimes surpassed their supervisors. Unfortunately, some also expected attractive compensation packages and corporate perks. In addition, they quickly became known as employees who would not hesitate to change jobs if they weren�t satisfied with their work environment.

Some Gen Y workers may have had these high expectations since they came of age during an economic boom and a technological renaissance, when the sky seemed the limit. But then the bubble burst and reality set in � an economic downturn similar to when their predecessors, Generation X, hit the job market in the early 90s. They no longer had the leverage they once had when opportunities were plentiful.

So, you no longer need to worry about keeping talent, right? Not exactly.

No matter what the economy, talented employees will leave an organization if they are not developed and utilized to their full potential.

Coach Them Now, Retain Them Later

When Generation Y made their initial foray in the workforce, their reputation was built early � employers loved their energy, drive and skills. However, many managers were a little taken back by what they described as their short attention span and reluctance to perform tasks that they felt were beneath them. Because of this combination of vigor, talent and somewhat unrealistic expectations, it soon became obvious to many enlightened corporate leaders that coaching and mentoring could help this Generation become more successful.

Coaching is also one of the best methods for retaining Generation Y employees because it allows them to thrive in an environment designed to enable their success. It takes advantage of their potential by playing to their strengths while helping them understand their weaknesses. This includes building trust, garnering loyalty and harnessing all that youthful energy with challenging but reasonable work. For example, if your fresh-out-of-college assistants want to tackle projects fit for more experienced staff, consider ways to involve them in the project that are more fitting of their abilities. Then, give them honest feedback and gradually increase their responsibility. And, by all means, give them every opportunity possible to help them learn new skills through workplace training.

To this goal-oriented generation of employees, training may be the most important aspect of workplace coaching. It may be even more important to some young employees than bonuses and stock options. Provide them with a variety of training options, including online, on-the-job and classroom learning. Also keep in mind their technology expertise and productivity potential, so provide as much state-of-the-art equipment and cutting-edge training as your budget allows.

It is also absolutely vital that you are consistent and vigorous with feedback, whether it is constructive criticism or praise. Make sure any corrective feedback is to the point yet non-threatening. Be very honest and clear with young employees: State the specific behavior and why the behavior is wrong, allow responses, mutually establish desired goals, and decide specific ways to avoid future problems.

On the flip side, Gen Y thrives on praise like most of us do. Don�t just save recognition for a year-end banquet, but show your appreciation by dishing it out during a project. Make sure they realize how their achievements impact all parties involved (employee, team and company). A sincere pat on the back is greatly appreciated by Gen Y, and is a VERY cost-effective retention tool in this tough economy.

Besides the above, other aspects of coaching that are effective with Gen Y include the following:

� Offer �supervised autonomy� - Give them enough leash to help them succeed, but keep an eye on them so they don�t hang themselves with it.

� Be flexible � Even in this time of lean staffing, Gen Y workers like to have a life outside of work.

� Keep up with their pace � Generation X may be known for inventing multi-tasking, but Gen Y has perfected it. Keep giving them challenging projects, or they will get bored.

� Partner with them � Solicit their ideas and contributions, and stress that they are working as a team with other bright, creative individuals.

Unfamiliar Times for a Generation of Optimists

Another aspect of coaching is helping them through change. Keep in mind this economic downturn has created an unfamiliar world for them. Many have gone from an unlimited ceiling of career possibilities when they left college to living with the possible specter of unemployment.
This can have an adverse effect on their workplace productivity. The friends they went to lunch with have been downsized. They find themselves having to perform tasks they never imagined doing before, being unfamiliar with what to expect, and losing trust in management. Part of their survival strategy is looking elsewhere for perceived workplace stability. One aspect of coaching that can help reassure and retain young employees is partnering with them.

Partnering includes addressing issues and reducing fear through three main ingredients:

� Vision is a clear picture of what can be at your company. Reassure your Gen Y employees that this economic downturn will not last forever, new customers will come along, and profits will rise, but only if everyone is working toward a clear goal. Without vision, people soon lose focus and goals are not met. With vision, you can invent the future and make it happen.

� Commitment is when your Gen Y employees believe they can endure and eventually thrive as the company turns around. Research has shown that the more involved, informed and appreciated people are, the more likely they are to commit to the goal. If you don�t have a committed staff, you can forget any success and this is especially true for the Gen Y folks.

� Action is the end result of commitment and vision. Action also involves the planning, monitoring and adjusting that is necessary to keep the vision in sight and to ensure that you have a committed crew of young talent.

Although Gen Y employees have had their own disappointments and have challenged many traditional leaders, they provide a wealth of future potential for the organization.

Quite simply, an effective coaching style of leadership for this unique and promising generation could make the difference between keeping the talent in your company or losing it to a competitor.

Joanne G. Sujansky develops leaders and helps organizations manage change. She is a Certified Speaking Professional(CSP) who presents keynotes, training and consulting, has worked in more than 30 countries, and the author of five books. Contact her at 724- 942-7900, or e-mail at [email protected]

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