Give to, and take from, 'energetic' generation Ys

Shun workplace bureaucracy in favour of outcomes

IT leaders facing an influx of so-called "generation Y" workers need to re-think traditional work practices in order to leverage their enthusiasm, according to people who manage them.

During a panel session at the CIO conference in Sydney yesterday, Zest Health Clubs CIO Stuart Guest-Smith said those between the age of 18 and 30 represent a cultural change based on technologies like the Internet and can really add value to the organization.

"They are an amazing workforce that will run a million miles an hour and continue to provide energy to the organization," Guest-Smith said.

Most of Guest-Smith's IT staff are generation Y, but more strikingly, 80 percent of the company's 1800 employees are young people, some of which are managing $5 million businesses at the age of 25.

"The workforce dynamic has changed where people don't stay around for 4 to 5 years and the average is 1.1 years," he said. "I have to be accepting and spend more time coaching and listening. It adds time and effort but it's effort well rewarded - if you channel energy and time they generated more value to the organization."

If it helps to get the most out generation Y when the organization's values align better with those of young people, so a health company may have an inherent advantage over other, less "fun" businesses.

"Provide a set of principles and guidelines in what the organization will provide them," Guest-Smith said, adding generation Ys don't necessarily want timelines.

"Say 'this is the end product, and as long as you deliver that's fine'. You have to create that synergy and language of gen y. It's about a dynamic working environment. Be inventive, and they want to work for organizations that are ethical and honest. And be supportive."

A generation Y worker himself, Simon Malian of the Malian Foundation, an organization that provides open source software for charities, said because they work together on online forums and chat rooms, there is a lot more networking at a young level between companies.

"It also has a lot to do with many young people starting their own companies," Malian said. "A lot of gen Ys see they can do what they want because it's quite cheap to start a Web design company."

Malian believes attracting and retaining generation Y workers has a lot to do with the branding of the organization.

"They were happy to work because of the prospects and not so much about what they are doing," he said. "Ask your gen Y what they enjoy about working at your company."

Vice president of IDG Australia's (publisher of Computerworld) consumer and products division Ben Gerholt said he has also seen success with generation Y workers, which was largely driven by a skills shortage.

"It was harder to hire technology people so we went to a younger pool," Gerholt said, adding this generation are "go getters" and mature for their age.

"You find with gen y you have to over-communicate everything and the reason behind every decision and it does seem to take up an inordinate amount of time. They want to know details. They expect instant access to any level of the organization and seem to be in a hurry to progress and get through the ladder quicker whether or not, in your judgement, they are ready."

One problem with generation Y Gerholt cited was attention to detail.

"You just have to keep harping on it," he said. "Maybe the individuals are the problems."

On leadership, Gerholt said generation Y like to trust people, so if managers can build that trust they will benefit from young people than experience a lack of benefit.

The nature of generation Y people aside, the panel agreed that the good economic climate and skills shortage has worked in favour of young jobseekers, which may change abruptly.

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