Just when we think we have the Gen X’ers figured out, along comes a new generation to the workforce — Generation Y, or as many call them, the “Millennials.” Understanding this generation is important in recruiting and retaining your future workforce.

First, you need to know who these Millennials are. The demographics and characteristics are significant in how they differentiate from, and how they are similar to, earlier generations.

The number of Gen Y’ers is staggering. Nearly 77 million people were born between the “millennial” years: 1981 and 1999. That number is around the same number as Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964, and many of us are aware of the impact Baby Boomers had: More schools were built than in any other time in history; rock ‘n’ roll was popularized; and as adults, this generation brought the economy and stock market to new heights. The Baby Boomers also created two-income families and latch-key children.

Gen Y’ers have a sense of entitlement. They don’t trust “Corporate America,” so they don’t have the same commitment to their employers as their parents, nor do they plan to stay with the same company for their entire career. They have seen their parents work long hours, committing to one company and end up laid off or “down-sized.”

This new generation needs work/life balance and to still get recognized and move up within the company — as long as the promotions don’t put more demands on their personal lives. Employers who can offer telecommuting, flexible schedules, and more time off will find themselves more attractive to Gen Y’ers.

Many Millennials want to interact with their immediate supervisors, but only if it’s for mentoring or to be praised. Autonomy is very important to them, as is allowing them the ability to express their ideas and try new things. Don’t hold them to “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

They have grown up in the high-tech age of the Internet, video games, Facebook, and texting. They are technically savvy, and want immediate access to information. They like to work in teams and want work to be fun and meaningful. There needs to be a whole new approach in recruiting and training this new workforce. Information should be two clicks away if you want to hold their interest — so making that online application easily accessible is important. Recruiting via Facebook is gaining popularity, and the use of technology and team environments in training and on the job will help in retaining Gen Y employees.

Employers will see more personal relationships fostered at the workplace. Gen Y’ers like to work with their friends and they are more inclined to develop romantic relationships on the job. It is important for employers to tighten up or create policies that address fraternization in the workplace — even a “love contract” between two co-workers who are dating. Policies addressing accessing social media are also important, and coaching will most certainly be required, for Millennials to understand the importance of proprietary information.

Other areas that require special coaching for Gen Y’ers include behavior in the workplace. They will need to work on “conventional” communication skills, especially face-to-face situations with customers, co-workers, and management. Almost half of Gen Y’ers have tattoos and body piercings, so tightening of dress codes may be needed (e.g., no tank tops or facial piercings). Manners in the workplace should also be addressed: when to interrupt, the importance of attending meetings, and the importance of being punctual.

Don’t fear the coming of this new generation. They are entrepreneurial; they are open to change and amazingly optimistic — traits that are much needed in the workplace, now and in the future.

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