Generation Why? Making the Most of a ‘Milennial’ Workforce

Today’s workplace is constantly changing, and that means challenges and opportunities for managers, administrators and employees. The millennial generation will soon make up 75% of the global workforce. Let’s take a look at these changing demographics and what challenges and opportunities the millennial generation represent.

Today’s workplace will have employees and managers ranging from those born just before or during the war, the Maturist generation, the post-war Baby Boomer generation, the ‘Generation X’ of the late 60’s and 70’s, Generation Y; those born in the 80’s and early 90’s and Generation Z, those born after 1995.
Recent Irish research (Dr Mary Collins, Royal College of Surgeons 2014/15) shows that the majority of most Irish workforces is still made up of Generation X, at 35%, but it’s almost at parity now with the generations just before it, Baby Boomers (33%) and Generation Y at 29%. Since the latter will make up the majority of the workforce over the coming decades, they are the ones that we are particularly interested in.

Dr Collins research included an in-depth analysis of Generation Y, also known as the millennial generation, and their expectations and subsequent effects on the modern workplace, both public and private sector. While Generation X observed the changing of the modern workplace with the digital revolution, the millennials are expecting consistent and constant transformation, as they are ‘digital natives’ and for them the digital revolution is a constantly evolving reality. “In terms of career profiling,” according to Dr Collins, “a millennial employee places a strong emphasis on being challenged, but they also want a fluid workplace structure, where they are trusted and empowered to work in different ways. For them a work/life balance is very important, but they view work as something that can be done at any time, from almost anywhere.” Adapting to the needs of ‘Generation Y’ is a growing priority for many employers today, as they represent to next generation of talent for any organisation, and with the competition for the best graduates at the highest it’s been in the last ten years, organisations are having to leverage other strategies in order to obtain the best graduates.


For public service organisations, such as a local government, the millennial generation poses particular challenges. Traditionally, the attractiveness of public service bodies has been the stability and established career paths within many such organisations. Millennials expect to change jobs as much as 15-20 times over the course of their career. “This is happening and will continue to happen,” says Dr Collins. “The reality is that companies and organisations will have to adjust how they structure career paths and move people through their careers”, she adds.

Indeed, keeping the right people is a constant challenge for organisations, those who want to develop the leaders of the future from millennial generation working within their organisations. One of the problems with retention is that organisations can struggle to keep their employees ‘engaged’ and ‘happy in the workplace’. Research shows that on average only 29% of employees could be described as engaged, with 52% disengaged – this also means apathetic or unhappy – and a further 19% actively disengaged, which can manifest itself in the form of wilful disruption within the organisation.

If an employee is engaged, they are 87% less likely to leave and on average they will deliver 20% more productivity.
While organisations wonder and worry about how they can best attract and retain the best Generation Y talent, it could be argued that if the workplace in which this generation wants to work were realised, it would lead to a far better, more holistic and rewarding place for people of any generation to work. While Generation Y are indeed ‘needy’ and easily distracted, they are also resourceful and willing to invest considerably in a place of work in which they feel they are making a contribution.

A 2014 Deloitte study spoke of the importance to Generation Y of culture and career potential over pure monetary reward. While these aspirational values are admirable and encouraging, Dr Collins’ research did point out that an unhappy cadre of millennial workers could lead to rapid disconnection or disengagement from their work, and that although a millennial values feedback and communication, they do not respond well to criticism, hence the commonly heard criticism of ‘Generation Snowflake’.

The reality is that within less than ten years this generation will comprise three-quarters of the planet’s workforce. For employers successfully attracting and retaining millennial workers, this means creating meaning, purpose and direction in their work and reinforcing the values and vision of an organisation to them. It’s important to them that their manager or employer has an interest in their personal career path and can emphasise both the opportunities and the challenges to them.

While tailoring a HR strategy for a particular generation can seem excessive, the overwhelming demographic which the millennial generation will occupy for the foreseeable future makes any such strategy entirely necessary. Also, the residual benefits of a positive workplace transformation can include harnessing the goodwill and increased engagement of three generations of workers; the workplace discipline of the ‘Baby Boomer’, the dynamism of ‘Generation X’ and the flexibility and idealism of ‘Generation Y’.

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