TADS Insights

Gen Y and Success

1 June 2015


Research by the Penna Group has shed some new light on how Gen Y (born between 1980 and 1996) think about themselves and their organisations.  Penna surveyed the views of 1,000 employees (in two groups between 18-24 and 25-34) as well as the perspectives of 1,000 senior managers.



The surprising findings of this research are:

  • 30% of managers expect Gen Y employees to take on leadership/management roles, however less than one fifth of employees currently see this as a long-term goal.
  • Only 3% of managers see loyalty as a key quality that Gen Y bring to the workplace, compared to 65% of Gen Y employees.
  • 40% of Gen Y employees see it as their responsibility to manage their careers yet only 15% of managers credit them with being equipped to do so.

These research results clearly demonstrate that differences of perception along with inaccurate stereotyping explain how employees and their bosses hold such vastly different positions.  And of course, several important implications follow in the way we manage, lead, and think about this generation in our workplaces.

At the heart of the issue is how different generations define “success”.  For Gen Y, success is more about doing something you love and of doing something that makes a difference.  In older generations, success was about achieving seniority, position and title, and ultimately a bigger salary.

What Gen Y have seen – perhaps through the lives of their parents – is that the effort involved in climbing the greasy corporate latter, is simply not worth it.  That combined with better education, means that Gen Y have greater choices and more influence on how they can uniquely define “success” for themselves.

As a manager then of a Gen Y, you need to acknowledge that what has worked to motivate you, will not necessarily be effective with many of your current employees.   It also means that some people will be happier doing jobs that appeal to their sense of meaning or contribution rather than seeking the next promotion or even positions of leadership.

At the same time, as shown from the Penna data, Gen Y have a stronger than expected bond with their organisation.  It seems that once they have found a job they like, and have developed some passion for the work they do, they become staunch supporters and advocates for their employer.

On reflection, this rather surprising data, is explainable.  Given that Gen Y will typically seek out employers that are aligned with their own value system, it follows that once they do find a suitable role, it is more likely to more fully engage them when they begin working for that employer.  With that level of engagement the employee will likely develop an emotional bond with their workplace, their colleagues, and the work that they do.

It’s important therefore that employers invest time in having meaningful “alignment” conversations with their people and, in that way, reinforce what it means to work here and why the work you do really matters.  Done well and assuming the Penna data, you will have 6 or 7 out of every 10 Gen Y employees proactively advocating for your organisation and the ultimate ambassadors for your brand.  They will also become your best recruiters of other like-minded Gen Y’ers.

There is no doubt that Gen Y have accepted responsibility for their own career development and will more readily move between employers if their expectations are not being satisfied.  Interestingly, with only 15% of managers acknowledging that they (employees) have the skills of career management, there is a risk that bosses will take too much for granted and end up losing some of their best people.

One effective strategy would be to put programmes in place to actively work with your Gen Y people to help them with their careers beyond their current role, or even their current organisation.  It’s about recognising that your people have unrealised potential and part of your job is to help them to be the best that they can be.  If you can help your people with their career management, they will thank you for it.

When we look at it closely, many of the generalisations we often hear about Gen Y are simply untrue.  They are not necessarily self-centred, money-driven and short-term focussed.  Perhaps they are young people who are driven by the passion to do something that matters and they are impatient to make their contribution.

Gen Y bring essential skills to your organisation, it’s up to us to make sure we give them every opportunity to be successful.

-- David Keane