Sustaining high performance with Generation-Y employees

Different generations require different HR strategies

There’s a big difference between baby boomers and Generation Y. The former’s life experiences were shaped by consumer product explosion, rock ’n’ roll and the advent of television. The latter have been shaped by the fallout of Sept. 11, global warming, the digital explosion and working mothers.

In the workplace, these different generational outlooks have profound implications for recruitment, managing performance, career planning, managing change, reward and recognition and learning.


Fit is often the number-one factor in excluding candidates during the interview process. Since fitting in implies “not upsetting the apple cart” and not appearing overly confident, Generation Y is at a disadvantage. They were raised by their boomer parents to be, and appear, intelligent and confident. Unfortunately, this is often perceived by boomers as disrespectful and cocky.

Organizations need to realize innovative and agile organizations require a diversity of opinions and employees who can confidently share ideas that often challenge prevailing thought and wisdom.

Boomer managers and peers should not perceive better ideas or higher energy as a threat. The traditional culture of “shut up and do” and “don’t come up with a better idea than your boss because it makes them look bad” will make most Gen-Y workers leave.

Therefore, interviewers must adjust their definition of “fit” and sensitize the organization’s culture to Gen-Y values.

Pitching an organization as an employer of choice to a Gen-Y candidate means accentuating career growth, professional development, access to the latest technology, challenging work and an opportunity to make a difference — above all other attraction factors.

The events of Sept. 11, global warming and the fight against poverty have raised the consciousness level of Gen-Y workers. They want to work for employers that respect the environment, care about employees, create meaningful products or services and give back to the local community.

Managing performance

Traditional approaches to performance management are not compatible with independent, entrepreneurial thinkers who relish responsibility, demand immediate feedback and expect a sense of accomplishment on an hourly basis.

Don’t wait for performance evaluations to tell Gen-Y workers what they’re doing right or wrong. Do it daily. Quarterly or biannual reviews should change to weekly reviews. Static objectives set at the beginning of the performance year must have built-in fluidity to respond to the changing needs of the business.

Most of Gen Y’s reference points are built on short-term time frames. Eventually, as they progress through their career, they will learn to grasp the longer-term horizons.

Career planning

Generation Y has watched obsolete technology crumble quickly and observed all types of new jobs mushroom overnight. Career planning paths and ladders will not resonate with them because their experience tells them one-half of the jobs today will not be around in 10 years. Talking to them about career progression into specific roles is meaningless.

Instead, focus on exploring and nurturing their passion and providing opportunities to learn many different competencies that transcend traditional functional or specialized boundaries. Allowing them to participate in different projects both inside and outside of their functional expertise satisfies their need for diversity and self-exploration. This can be further enhanced with the creation of a database of “go-to” people Gen-Y workers can easily access to learn about projects, strategies for handling a project and just-in-time support and encouragement.

Enabling this type of support system means the role of baby boomers includes mentoring and coaching. Position every person on the team as a teacher who has something valuable to offer young people.

Managing change

Gen Yers have grown up with the reality that change is the only constant. They are more prone to anticipating and adjusting to change and are likely to view traditional change-management process steps as a waste of time. Relative to baby boomers, they are early adopters of new best practices and are more in touch with trends because of their web-savvy nature.

What they lack, however, is the historical context of what has been tried and tested before and the conditions under which some changes failed in the past. Saying, “We’ve tried that before” is a huge demotivator for them. Instead, boomers should take the time to explain the conditions and context under which past changes were recommended and be open to trying again if the conditions and context have changed.

Gen Yers are not patient and their need for instant accomplishment and gratification may compromise much-needed upfront time in the project-design phase that makes the implementation easier. Baby boomers can help teach the fundamentals of consultation. It will not come naturally to Gen-Y staff.

Compensation, reward and recognition

Traditional compensation packages that focus heavily on pensions and medical and post-retirement benefits should be dropped entirely from job postings for firms looking to recruit Generation-Y candidates.

They want competitive salaries but loathe the thought of relying on a company for their long-term wealth management, especially when they have no predisposition toward long-term job guarantees. Instead, offer them a matching group retirement savings plan and take the current benefit cost per employee and build it into their compensation package as cash.

As for rewards, tie all incentives to one thing only: Performance. And make sure to deliver praise, recognition and rewards in close proximity to the contribution.

Training and development

Most Gen Yers have already posted blogs, published websites and installed computer programs, so skill-based and behaviour-based training should usually be delivered through online courses. Use video and visual aids for skilled-trades-based training, especially for complicated equipment operation.

Gen-Y workers want managers who are teachers who can help them grow and improve. They are prone to seek out organizations that have an obsession with training and development.

Pierre Robitaille is chief executive officer and Malcolm Gabriel is a strategic advisor on the board of directors of CCI Leadership Strategies in Toronto. They can be reached at (416) 735-0504 or

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