HR experts discuss recruiting Generation Y

Generation Y have different career expectations to their parents and grandparents. A panel of HR experts discusses the challenges this generation brings to the workplace and the evolving employer/employee dynamic. Read the article and watch the video of the webinar.

In the webcast, How to manage the changing employer/employee dynamic, our experts touched on some of the hottest topics in HR today. These include the narcissism of Gen Y employees, looser controls over information and the concept of ‘guardians of culture’.

On the panel: Doug Sawers, managing director UK & Ireland at Ceridian; Stephen Bungay, director of Ashridge Strategic Management Centre and number five in the HR Most Influential UK Thinkers list; and Tracy Robbins, executive vice president of HR at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), ranked 21st in the HR Most Influential Practitioner list. The discussion was chaired by HR magazine editor Arvind Hickman.

Read on for some of the key findings from the discussion or to watch the video. 

Y are you like this?

Months have been spent trying to establish what makes Generation Y tick, especially in the workplace. They are the leaders of the not too distant future as well as the increasingly influential workers of today. 

So what are their key characteristics? Bungay warned against taking individuality out of the equation but said that we can assume the group is “a digital generation, rather narcissistic and very demanding”.

These traits lead to Gen Y having an “instrumental approach” to the companies they work for, he added. Younger employees no longer ask what they can do for their employers, but what their employers can do for them.

Robbins has a lot of experience dealing with Gen Y employees at InterContinental Hotels Group – they make up the bulk of her workforce. She said all workers, regardless of age, crave two things: “Value and appreciate me, and treat me as an individual”. But Robbins said she thinks Gen Y employees lack the “loyalty gene” that previous generations possessed. “They want to get on with their careers and they’re very quick to vote with their feet,” she added. 

Sawers agreed that the work environment “has changed dramatically over the last five years or so”. The main difference Ceridian has seen, both within its own employee base and those of its customers, is the “unprecedented” amount of information that is available now.

One of the ways companies can use this to their advantage is to involve employees at all levels more comprehensively in decision-making, said Sawers. “Some of the most forward-thinking customers we have are looking beyond employee engagement to involvement,” he added. “Everyone has an opinion, and it’s a lot easier to access that opinion today.”

Guardians of culture

So what are the challenges for HR? Bungay said that the function’s role is increasingly important during times of great change. With an evolving workforce, the need for a company to develop is now “more of an imperative and less of an option”.

Another key progression, according to Bungay, is the role of HR as a “guardian of the culture”. He gave the example of German web design company Jimdo, which has a role called a ‘director of happiness’. This person is responsible for onboarding, a plethora of HR issues and ensuring that the culture is maintained throughout the business.

Both Ceridian and IHG have put programmes in place to ensure their employees are seen as individuals and not just workers, while associating strongly with the brand. Is this a way to fight back against the nomadic nature of Gen Y?

“In every piece of communication we place our values alongside the faces of our people,” explained Sawers. “This means people recognise themselves against those values, whereas in the past they felt quite distant from them. This is a fantastic opportunity to properly represent the value of human beings within organisations.”

IHG has turned to the simple concept of fun to help its staff embrace the company’s culture, after research revealed this is one of the things modern employees value most. “One of the things we’ve done is have a creative look at our brand, so it now features our own people and their hobbies and interests,” Robbins explained. This has had a “massive impact” on people feeling connected to the brand as a human being and not just a member of staff, she added.

So what comes next?

The balance of power does look to be shifting towards the employee, so how can employers keep staff engaged and happy in the future? Robbins believes effective communication will be key. “We realised we need to be more proactive in talking to potential employees on social media,” she said. “In India and Russia, for example, we have a presence on all the social media sites.” 

This in itself may not seem hugely innovative, but the group is hoping to stand out by improving interaction with those who have left the company and may wish to return.

Will the trend of increasing employee power continue? Despite protesting that he is “not a prophet”, Bungay offered some thoughts on the future. He predicted that the employee/employer relationship may see a “pendulum swing”, with the dynamic normalising to some extent over the next few years.

Further in the future, Bungay said employee power might split between those who are “creating a lot of value-added” and those who are not. He said things “could get tough” for those in lower skilled jobs, as companies may invest in technology to perform some of the more menial tasks.

However the dynamic changes, the important thing for employers is “to have your fingers on the pulse”, according to Bungay. “If you’re too late to change, playing catch up is going to be difficult,” he warned.