How Gen Y & Boomers Can Reshape Your Workforce

Right now, managers are operating in full recessionary mode. They're wrestling with whether and how much to reduce head count, weighing alternatives like furloughs and pay cuts, and generally trying to get by with less. Not many are focused on what just a few years ago was described as "the war for talent." As the economy recovers, however, companies will return to the challenge of winning over enough highly capable professionals to drive renewal and growth. Only then will they realize that the rules of engagement have changed, that the landscape of talent management has been transformed.

The combination of Generation Y eagerly advancing up the professional ranks and Baby Boomers often refusing to retire has, over the course of a few short years, dramatically shifted the composition of the workforce; each of these generations is roughly twice the size of Generation X, which lies between them. More important, Boomers and Gen Ys are together redefining what constitutes a great place to work. As we will show, they tend to share many attitudes and behaviors that set them apart from other generations. These shared preferences constitute a new center of gravity for human resources management.

Portrait of Gen Y
To satisfy your Gen Y employees as they become a large proportion of the labor pool, you'll need to address what makes them tick. Here are five facets of their inner workings.

84% profess to be very ambitious.

These are go-getters: About as many Gen Ys who call themselves very ambitious say they are willing to go the extra mile for their company's success.

Loyalty vs. Quest
45% expect to work for their current employer for their entire career.

Gen Y employees fully hope to remain faithful to a workplace, but the clear majority say they also want work to bring a range of new experiences and challenges. They may be more susceptible to wanderlust than they realize.

Multicultural Ease
78% are comfortable working with people from different ethnicities and cultures.

Gen Ys are clearly at ease with diversity, whereas only 27% of Boomers have such a comfort level. Even when it comes to networking, Gen Ys excel at diversity: More than a quarter network primarily with people of a different ethnicity.

Healing the Planet
86% say it's important that their work make a positive impact on the world.

Gen Y workers want an employer who shares their eco-awareness and social consciousness, even down to the details of office energy use. Nearly one quarter say it's very important to work in a green, environmentally conscious workplace.

Networking by Nature
48% say having a network of friends at work is very important.

Working in teams is a top motivator for Gen Y employees. They love to connect with others and enjoy working in offices that are open and conducive to socializing. They want people, even bosses, to be readily accessible.

Baby Boomers
To keep your Baby Boomers happy as they age, you'll need to address these five dimensions of their work expectations and ethos.

Staying in Harness
42% project they will continue working after age 65.

Fourteen percent of Boomers now say they don't think they will ever retire. Although insufficient savings and children's college bills are the deciding factors in some cases, many say that they enjoy their jobs and that their identities are intertwined with their work.

Long Runways
47% see themselves as being in the middle of their careers.

There's not much risk of a Boomer-instigated mass knowledge exodus. Indeed, the current global recession is further delaying retirement. In our January 2009 survey, Boomers reported needing to stay in the workforce four years longer than they had expected just six months earlier.

From "Me" to "We"
87% say being able to work flexibly is important.

Because they are eager to pursue other passions while keeping a hand in at work, Boomers prize flexibility and autonomy in their jobs. Not surprisingly, more women than men call flexibility important: 89% versus 85%.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett is an economist and the founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York. Her forthcoming book is titled Top Talent: Keeping Performance Up When Business Is Down (Harvard Business Press, 2009).

Laura Sherbin and Karen Sumberg are vice presidents at the Center for Work-Life Policy.

To see the full report, click here.
This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds