In The Press: Creating and maintaining an engaged Generation Y workforce

Generation X EmployeeIn a job market that is providing younger employees, in particular, with increasing flexibility to jump ship, why are so many organisations failing to talk to Generation Y (Gen Y) in the language they understand? It is that shortcoming which is resulting in poor retention rates amongst younger employees. John Sylvester discusses with Strategic HR Review.

Human resource (HR) departments are often directed from the top and that tends to mean a more mature Generation X (Gen X) management trying and often failing to communicate with Gen Y prospects. This older generation of managers requires a better understanding in modern day language and platforms by their own Gen Y employees. This will improve peer-to-peer relations and immediately break down perceived barriers between entry-level employees and senior leaders.

Targeted communications will enable to organisations to attract and retain the right people. Gen Y mobile – Apps and SMS work better for them than phone and email. A multimedia approach, enticing prospective recruits to click through to a video clip promoting the business as a great place to work can be very effective.


Speaking the right language

Getting the language right for this generation is key – but “honestly”, as Gen Y would say, getting it wrong is just “awkward”, so organisations need to involve Gen Y employees in creating an effective communications strategy. That should also include face-to-face communications – perhaps surprisingly, in one survey, 52 per cent of Gen Ys actually preferred face-to-face communication to e-mailing (18 per cent) or instant messaging (11 per cent).

Low engagement fosters negativity in the workplace affecting productivity and customer service. As unemployment falls, sales may increase, but recruitment and retention becomes more challenging. So it is important that employers reflect this upswing with a more positive and rewarding environment for employees.

Engage generation yEmployers have to get smarter in presenting earnings and rewards to staff in a way they can relate to – replace boring “rewards statements” with infographics, for example. Pay alone is less important to the “zero hours” Gen Y who have become used to ability to tailor hours worked and pay received to their lifestyle. Organisations will benefit from bundling up all the “extras” they offer as part of their employee package and communicating these clearly to Gen Y in their language.

This is a transient workforce, not afraid to move on. The London Business School says 90 per cent of Gen Y employees do not plan on staying with one employer for more than five years – with 37 per cent planning to stay less than two years. According to experts in executive education at London Business School, the findings are “further evidence of the failure of baby boomers and Generation X to offer benefits that appeal to the high potential Y”.

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Think global, act local and generational

Most HR departments will be familiar with measuring current levels of engagement before putting in place measures to improve it. But this rarely takes into account the engagement levels of the different generations. Typically, organizations want the economies of scale of introducing one process for everyone but acting global, aiming for engagement for all, while thinking local is more effective. In reality, a workforce is generally very disparate, comprising many different clusters of employees, and it is important to adapt engagement programmes to the different groups – and generations – of employees.

Social Media GenerationHowever, there is little evidence that HR departments are targeting their engagement initiatives to different generations. HR could learn from the retail and consumer space where segmented marketing to appeal to different generations is well established.

Gen Y has typically grown up with lots of positive affirmation from parents and responds well to regular rewards and recognition. This one-click, buy–it-now generation does not respond well to an annual certificate. Instead lots of smaller rewards and feedback throughout the year works best, with instant recognition for successes that are easy to understand. This generation is not all about the money and will also respond very well to meaningful and personal feedback that gives them kudos among their peers.


At the energy firm E.ON, every two minutes, an employee receives a personalised “thank you” from a colleague or customer sent via “Buzz”, an online recognition scheme.

Since the company implemented the scheme in 2013 it has boosted “employees understanding of the company vision” to 75 per cent positive – giving Gen Y purpose and vision (against an Ipsos Mori industry benchmark of 52 per cent). Also, crucially, E.ON employees are able to talk directly to senior management via the platform. This appeals to Gen Y who do not tend to feel constrained by traditional hierarchies and are confident about their ability to contribute to the organisation.

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Creating engagement among Gen Y employees is not a one-off task. Maintaining the momentum in staff recognition and rewards programmes will be easier if there is a clear strategy for regular rewards targeted at this generation. As unemployment falls and the war for talent hots up, organisations that have an effective strategy to attract and retain Gen Y will be best placed to tap into the energy of young employees.


Five top tips to keep Gen Y engaged

  1. Educate the older generation who sit at the top of the tree that their audience is changing and they need to communicate differently with Gen Y employees.
  2. Make rewards and recognition for Gen Y one-click – do this, get that.
  3. Use the right technology or media to address Gen Y as well as the right language.
  4. Involve Gen Y people when creating communication plans. They will have the best insight into their own generation.
  5. Apply a segmented, retail-style approach to internal marketing to employees


This article first appeared in Strategic HR Review. View it here >>


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