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The Y Generation – Is there such a thing, and what does it say for the world of employment?

My young daughters, who will soon turn ten, often use a phone app called music.ly, filming themselves in a clip with a song in the background. When I asked them one day how they synchronize separate clips of each person onto the same screen, they looked at me in disdain – a look reserved for someone who is generations behind the technological times…

So it is true, there is a smartphone app that I'm not familiar with and they manipulate with ease, but what does it say about the whole of their characters? Some of my children were born into a world where cell phones and Internet connections are natural parts of their lives and constitute a central motif in their self-identities.

In Wikipedia, they are defined as the Z generation, and this refers to anyone born after the year 2000.

So how different are they really from me or from my young adult children who were born twenty years before? The Z generation is defined as a generation that comes after the Y generation, about which Wikipedia writes: "…a generation growing within the swift acceleration in technological developments in the field of computers and the Internet, with access to advanced communication tools and means.

This is the generation of digital children, the generation that is exposed to global stimuli from an early age: music, fast food, newscasts and events from around the world, Internet, etc…" Children of the Y generation are defined as being born in the 1980's and 1990's.

On the one hand, there is no doubt that we live in a reality in which the rate of technological development is constantly increasing and we are continuously required to adapt or to cope with ongoing change. On the other hand, I think we are placing too much weight for various phenomena on the term we refer to as the Y generation.

Let's look, for a moment, at employee stability: what is important to the employee, and specifically, the desire to take responsibility and to initiate.

Employee stability

In many places I hear that the reason for lack of stability among young employees is that they are from the Y generation, and that this is one of the prominent characteristics of this generation.

My own conclusion from many conversations with employees for close to thirty years in the business and industrial world is completely different: the higher the minimum wage rises, thus doing away with salary rankings, the more new employees obtain the impression that there is no reward for permanence in the work place.

Their thinking is that they will receive the same salary anywhere, and even if they are promoted in position, their salary ranking will remain the same. Add to this the demand for employees in a reality of very low unemployment rates and we will understand that this view is simple and easy.

However, I think this conclusion is also superficial, and applies to work places where the employees don't feel any significance and where their managers do not try to initiate interest or challenges in their work (see an article I published here two weeks ago on the question Is there a link between salary and motivation).

Labor Union surveys state that 85% of companies face difficulties in hiring employees. So there is no link between what we call the Y generation, in principle, and the very low rate of unemployment. I recommend that employers devote energy to employee retainment, which should greatly decrease their need to hire new employees.

The rate of employee turnover at different companies ranges from single digit percentages to up to tens times that and sometimes even more than 100% - meaning, that during the year, more employees leave the company than remain.

The Economist – Younger employees are less fickle than we thought

An article from The Economist published a few days ago in The Marker stated that "today's young people are not loyal to their employers and tend to move from job to job. Indeed, millennials change their work places more often than their older colleagues. But the reason for this is their age, not the year in which they were born. In the USA at least, the average employee turnover has remained almost the same over recent decades…"

Later on, they quote a statistic from the U.S. Ministry of Labor revealing that employee turnover for over-25's is a little lower than measured in 1983 – in other words, today's employees are more stable in their workplaces.

The article claims that according to OECD statistics, employee turnover in Western Europe among young adults stems from obstacles in the job market and not from personal motives among the young.

It also claims that it is rather the more middle-aged employees whose situation has changed significantly; but here as well, the reasons are not related to the individuals but rather to a "drop in the number of jobs that require partial skills, and the weakening of labor unions…"

What is important to employees in the workplace

The article published in The Marker is based on statistics from the U.S. Ministry of Labor and the OECD, but it lacks the personal aspect of the individual employee.

Even today, we often hear that "in traditional industry, employees only want to make a living". The reality that I have discovered is completely different. When I chat with young employees who gain great satisfaction from what they do (regardless of the specific job), I can identify the exact same elements revealed 90 years ago in Harvard University's research experiment at Western Electric's Hawthorne plant, conducted from 1927 to 1935.

The Hawthorne Effect rising from this experiment points to the principal elements for an increase in motivation (and from here, to a decrease in employee turnover). These elements include the employees feeling significant (having been chosen for the special experiment) and the open, considerate relations they enjoyed from the researchers who directed the work in the departments where the experiment took place.

From this aspect, I don't think anything has changed over the 90 years that have passed since then.

The aspect of taking initiative and responsibility

It has been suggested that the Y generation tend less to take initiative and responsibility. I don't have the statistics at hand, but I believe that today in particular, the tendency is towards more initiative as a result of technology's swift progress and ads on exits that spark the imagination.

I also can't quote statistics here regarding the taking of responsibility, but from my contact with businesses and industries over a period of thirty years, I don't see much of a change – certainly not a noticeable one.

Summary and recommendations

A little more than thirty years ago, we were still communicating with telex machines, and the fax machine had only just been introduced. How many people today know what a telex machine is?
Thirty years ago, many citizens in our country didn't have a telephone line at home. Technology changes rapidly and the rate of change is increasing. Our consumption and other habits are changing. We adapt ourselves, but do people change? Have new humans really evolved?

The statistics referred to in the Economist article published in The Marker ten days ago and the conclusions of the Hawthorne Experiment 90 years ago confirm my claim that our basic behavior has not changed.

I strongly recommend taking responsibility in the motivation of employees and not blaming internal company problems on external elements like the Y generation.

Ze'ev Ronen

CEO & Founder of Business Excellence.

Has extensive experience managing companies and business units in Israel and the world, and founding start-ups.

My unique specialty is increasing net profit in companies and leading systematic changing in operations and management in companies facing bankruptcy, bringing them to profit.

Contact me on zeev.ronen@business-excellence.co.il or on +972-524-767531.

1 comment
Lior Bichman
Lior Bichman
17-02-2018

Dear Ze'ev,
Of all the books and articles written on the subject, this is one of the most brilliant I have read, and I am delighted. I was born in the 90's and have been labeled part of the Y generation, but I was raised and educated on the values of the X generation, as if I were one of them, together with technological progress. One might say that as a child becoming a woman, I behaved as society expected of me: I completed my army service, studied for a B.A in university and even studied another profession to improve my chances of finding employment or starting a career and attaining economic and job security – but that's not the way it is now. Today, the industry prefers "revolving doors" over employee retention or development, because the costs are lower. Moreover, in many instances, when the direct manager isn't educated, he sees those employees as a potential threat to his own job and will try anything to make their lives hell and get them fired. I came up against this, unfortunately, when I moved homes in favor of a workplace and my new boss, who was quite violent, aggressive and stepped on people, consciously decided to fire employees instead of motivating and retaining them, and anyone who posed a threat to him was terminated instead of integrating them into a team.
Neither my generation nor the Z generation have economic freedom or job security, with prices we can't afford, so we have to make sacrifices (for example, for a mortgage or a child). Actually, we find ourselves in a situation between what reality demands and sheer helplessness. I would be happy to see somebody wake up and bring these problems to the forefront, to shed a different light on these generations, who are only seeking their niche in the world where the X generation is in power and there is no room to stand beside them.

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