The world has changed, and it is just a little out of whack. We’re living in a time when teenagers are excelling in Second Life but flunking in their first, Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy has been flipped on its head and football players have become metrosexuals. Since 2000, the Chinese have embraced capitalism, Muammar Gaddafi is now a respected member of the international community and Big Brother is finally off air. Computer power doubles every 18 to 24 months, farmers speed-date on national television, we tell one minute bedtime stories to our children, and even instant gratification today seems too slow. (I want my cheeseburger, now!)
And then, well, then there’s Gen Y… Tech-savvy, ambitious, international in outlook and with a sense of entitlement that would have made 18th Century British aristocrats cringe. So how can employers tame the ‘silver-spoon’ generation?
The real question is: should they even try? Anders Sorman-Nilsson explains.
As if we had not all been knocked about enough by the momentous changes in the world around us, a new, whacky generation has arrived at work, intent on upsetting the status quo.
Life and work are on their terms – they interview you, scoff at your work/life balance policy as a binary Gen X creation, announce that they’ll be working only four days a week and want to be on the executive by the time they finish their first rotation. What is going on in the world?
These workplace babies know that you need them. The War for Talent has dealt them a good hand. They have researched Australia’s ageing demographics on Wikipedia and their mates are considering graduate offers from a cross-section of top-tier firms, banks and overseas giants in London, Hong Kong, New York and Dubai. At least, they were until the global economy tanked for the first time in their brief lives.
Their expectations are high, they move fast and unless the reality of their employment experience with you is in line with the employer branding that attracted them to you, they will leave you faster than you can exclaim ‘no more due diligence’. Job promiscuity is a reality because nothing short of self-actualisation will satisfy this new breed. Wow, where did all this chutzpah come from?
For some years, Australian employers have known that they have had a strategic HR issue on their hands, but no one has been able to tell them what to do about it. The problem is linear, yet complex.
Let us illustrate it as a mathematical theorem for the logically inclined:
Global War for Talent + Ageing Demographic + Talent Shortage x Generation Y = HR Havoc
Demographers and social researchers have been able to describe the generational characteristics, map the differences and suggest attraction, retention and management solutions with varying degrees of success. Yet corporate Australia is still struggling. The credit crunch might be resolving the talent-shortage issue, but it will take more than a bit more competition for fewer jobs to rewire the culture of this generation.
How do we attract a Y that cares more about self-actualisation than money? How do we motivate someone who needs to be fulfilled and do challenging work every minute of the day? How do you explain to them that Facebook is not the same as research? How do you engage them to stay for the duration of their graduate induction program, let alone incubate them to become a productive, long-term employee? Is that too much to ask in this day and age? Blimey.
Bean bags, funky interiors, flexible working hours, pets at work, 20 percent innovation time, casual Fridays and holiday time in lieu are all solutions that are being adopted by corporate Australia. Are they solutions, though, or merely cosmetic touch-ups in an effort to strengthen the proverbial Employer Value Proposition?
Logan, start running
Generational diversity is the newest diversity issue on the block, and ageism in all directions is the new form of covert discrimination.
Some 70 percent of Australian employers have a generally negative view of Generation Y, 60 percent report of communication breakdowns with Gen Y and 63 percent of Gen Ys will leave their jobs within two years. Gen Ys will have in excess of 29 jobs across five different industries on average during their career. Are you scratching your head yet?
In the legal field, the bottom line costs of this job promiscuity and outlook are breathtaking. For every departed lawyer, the cost to the firm is estimated to be between 100-250 percent of the departing lawyer’s salary, with 80 percent of law firms saying that retention is a key issue that they are attempting to address. And this is particularly so for Gen Ys, the future talent pool of the firms, for whom the 20 year ‘path to partnership’ may not seem such an attractive option any longer.
So what’s the problem?
We know Gen Y’s values and beliefs are different from Xers and Boomers; that they have been influenced by social markers like 9/11, web 2.0, social networking sites, unprecedented levels of prosperity, cheque-book parenting and a favourable ‘talent demand versus supply’ equation. What we didn’t know was what to do about it.
Corporate Australia is recruiting in 2nd Life, offering overseas secondments, beating the work-life balance drum and praying that the initiatives will gain some traction. Meanwhile, the elder workplace siblings – Gen Xers – are standing in the corridors bitterly asking themselves why these spoilt workplace babies are getting all of the attention.
To an extent we have all been spoilt. Sixteen years of unprecedented economic growth, even in the face of economic recession, still has not dampened corporate demand for talent, nor employee expectations of employers.
We are living in a more right-brained world today where emotion, aspiration, purpose, meaning and symbolism trump process, logic, analysis, method and rationale. Employment decisions reside on the right side of the brain, so the more profound and connected your employment brand is, the more likely you are to successfully attract, engage and retain Gen Y and X talent.
Nourishing developing minds
If we think about this model as a nutritious dish, the left side of the quadrant is your salt and pepper, while the right side is your truffle and saffron. When you decide to dine at a great restaurant you assume that the chef knows how to season the dish with salt and pepper – in fact these two don’t even make it onto the menu – but the real mastery – the profound connection with the hearts and minds lies in the art of wooing your clientele’s right brains, and my right brain happens to respond to truffle and saffron. So it is when you position your company’s business brains and brand to prospective employees. And so it is when you engage them on an everyday basis.
Thus, when you position your employment brand and your managers to your staff, you need to ensure that your mental GPS is programmed to tap into the profound aspirations of your staff cross-generationally, and to guarantee that you maximise the emotional connection with them. This can take the shape of engaging your Gen Y staff in strategic think tanks, allowing them to self-actualise through travel, to set up more holistic work-life balance programs for travel-weary Xers, to take a genuinely green (and productive) perspective on the economy, and to give people the feeling that it is safe to engage in play and take calculated risks at work.
Neuro-branding, neuro-marketing and neuro-advertising are three emerging schools of scientific and business research, based on breakthrough studies from Baylor University in the US, which carried out the classic Pepsi versus Coke experiment with a brainy twist. The scientists placed the subjects in functional MRI scans and asked them in a blind test whether they preferred Pepsi or Coke. Fifty percent of respondents answered Pepsi; 50 percent answered Coke. Then the scientists told the subjects what they were drinking while simultaneously studying the neuro-activity in their brains. All of a sudden 75 percent of the subjects said they preferred Coke, with only 25 percent preferring Pepsi. But, more importantly, the reward and recognition parts of the brain responsible for higher thinking started lighting up, and there was additional activity in the memory and cognitive control regions as well.
This suggests that when you know what you’re tasting, you don’t respond just to flavour – your brain also gets excited about other things it knows about the product. So the question for your employment brand is: Is it like Coke or is it like Pepsi? Do you position salt and pepper, or do you position truffle and saffron?
Build in from the ‘right’ culture
Despite the fact that Gen Ys like to believe that they fire on more synapses than their elder workplace peers, every individual in the workplace has a powerful necktop computer, so the way you position your employment brand and employment experience management is crucial for emotionally engaging every generation’s business brains and maximising your return on thinking from your cross-generational brain trust.
This is evident in the success of large companies such as Costco, Jordan’s Furniture, Southwest Airlines, Google and even Starbucks in the face of recent challenges – businesses that meet the needs of a broader set of stakeholders than shareholders. (A recent study of 30 such firms, by Rajendra Sisodia, David Wolfe and Jag Sheth and published by Wharton School Publishing, demonstrated that the public companies in this group returned 1,026 percent for investors over the 10 years ending June 20, 2006, while the S&P 500 returned 122 percent.) According to the authors, the way these companies internally position themselves in a right-brained, emotionally intelligent, less hierarchical way to their staff – their focus on training and development and their family-friendly policies all paved the way to superior share and stakeholder returns.
So, what can you do concretely to ensure a more profound connection between your employment brand and your staff, to better attract, engage and retain them?
Emotional intelligence is directly correlated to hot HR factors such as staff engagement and satisfaction, effective leadership, lower absenteeism and retention. Emotionally intelligent leadership is also one of the biggest employment brand drawcards for Gen Y. Equally, Gen Xers, the biggest advocates for work-life balance and at a life stage where family is central to their universe, are attracted to these types of cultures evidenced by the increased attention given to corporate social responsibility, being an employer of choice and managing diversity in the workplace.
Emotional intelligence is about thinking intelligently with emotion; perceiving, expressing, understanding and managing emotions in a professional and effective manner. Initial research based on Australian-normed statistics showed that Gen Y exhibited lower levels of emotionally intelligent behaviour in the workplace compared to Xers and Boomers, which seemed logical given that a central tenet of EQ is that it can and most often is developed with age. More recent findings by Genos EI, an emotional intelligence assessment firm, shows that EI levels, surprisingly to most Xers and Boomers, do not significantly differ between the generations. This is not surprising to most Gen Ys though, as age is a defunct measure of competence in their view of the world.
Emotional intelligence can be improved through training and coaching and it meets the Gen Y/X need for kaizen (life-long learning), especially since it will fast-track their careers, strengthen their CVs and give them skills for everyday life.
Paradoxically, a Gen Y employee who is constantly learning, developing and growing (read becoming more attractive in the workforce market) is more likely to stay with the employer as the employer is deemed to live up to the Employer Value Proposition that attracted the Yer in the first place. Because Gen Ys expect and demand emotionally intelligent leadership even more so than other generations, it’s worthwhile investing in an emotional intelligence tune-up for your Boomer and Xer managers as well. Not only will this get your organisation firing on all generational synapses, but it will significantly move your employment brand in the right direction.Both Gen Ys and Gen Xers are attracted by a great employment brand, but will certainly leave an emotionally unintelligent manager.
Unlike IQ (the old measure of competence), EQ can be improved, which offers concrete hope for Australian organisations struggling to build generational bridges and integrating Gen Y within a productive workforce. Emotional intelligence is a hidden driver of great performance and it has been estimated that it accounts for as much as 90-94 percent of career success.
EI is also the software that enables organisations to maximise their return on thinking from their collective cross-generational brain trust. By building cultures and work environments based on the profound connection, and moving to spice up the emotional intelligence levels cross-generationally as a matter of priority, organisations may find that they are optimally positioning their business brains for competitive advantage. Coincidentally, it happens to solve the attraction, engagement and retention issue as well.
Anders Sorman-Nilsson is a reformed lawyer, a Gen Y Devil’s Advocate and the front facilitator at Thinque who challenges his clients to think funky and future-proof their business brains. He has recently been working with clients such as Apple, MTV, Procter & Gamble, Wella, Macquarie Bank, ANZ, Singtel Optus, McCann Erickson, Minter Ellison and Zee Entertainment Enterprises (India). www.thinque.com.au