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Generation Y and the Work-life Balance: Challenges for Public Sector HR Professionals

A note for our readers: the views reflected by the authors do not reflect the views of ASPA.

By Joe Jarret

They are called Generation Y or Millennials, and are defined by authors Strauss and Howe in their compelling book, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, to consist of the generation of people born during the 1980s and early 1990s. Estimated to be the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce, today’s public sector HR professional would be hard pressed to take lightly the needs, desires and attitudes of a generation from which public managers will be mining future employees. Just what are the needs, desires and attitudes of Generation Y? According to HR strategist Katharina Heuer, “Their philosophy is live first and then work. One of the criteria in choosing an employer is lifestyle.”

Jarret augustWith all due to the extant literature and the people who’ve penned it, today’s HR professional should not presume their applicant pool is swimming with self-centered, immature adults who are unwilling to produce and who view work as something little more than something that interferes with their leisure time. It has been my experience that many Generation Y applicants do have a heightened sense of work-life balance. Yet, they are under no delusion that they will be required to put in a full day’s work.

Kathy Gurchiek in her piece, “Gen Y Poses Unique Management Challenges,” notes, “Generation Y is better educated and more tech savvy than previous generations, but managing them in the workplace poses unique challenges to employers. However, through insight and proactive policies, employers can tap into the strengths these nearly 80 million Americans bring to the workforce.” Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at [email protected].

Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, offers in his piece, “How to Recruit, Hire, and Retain Best of Generation Y,” the 10 workplace issues most important to Gen Y job-seekers and workers:

1. Nurturing corporate culture. Gen Ys view having strong friendships with co-workers and bosses as extremely important to them. There is much anecdotal support of workers staying longer in jobs simply because they loved the people they worked with — and did not want to leave them. Management styles must be Theory Y for Gen Y. Consider too a formal or informal organization-wide mentoring program.

2. Job flexibility. Gen Ys not only want flexible hours and schedules, but remote work options because of their perception of the never-ending intersection of work and life. They see themselves doing work everywhere — except in a cubicle. Jobs must be designed to accommodate these workers personal lives, not the other way around.

3. Challenging work. Gen Ys, more than any previous college graduates, are graduating with a dynamic mix of academic and work experiences that have them positioned to contribute from day one. They are not interested in “grunt” jobs, or jobs in which they have to “pay their dues.” They seek challenging work from the start.

4. Professional and personal growth opportunities. Gen Ys value lifelong learning. They also tend to get bored easily and seek out new things. They want employers that offer tuition reimbursement, sabbaticals and other growth opportunities.

5. Volunteering options. Gen Ys have been involved in service most of their lives and have a true commitment to bettering the world around them. Employers should develop organizational volunteering programs and options that allow workers to continue these efforts. Having an organizational culture that supports these values is essential.

6. Competitive salaries. Gen Ys — especially younger ones fresh out of college — have more debt (both student loans and credit cards) than any previous generation. They demand a salary that not only recognizes their contributions, but also helps them pay down the debt. Some employers even have programs in place to help these workers pay off student loans.

7. Advancement opportunities. While Gen Ys are certainly not the most loyal bunch (but don’t blame them — blame those employers that downsized their parents), they do seek out employers that have a plan for their success. Employers should examine and create new ladders to guide younger workers through a steady progression in the organization.

8. Recognition programs. Gen Ys were raised in a bubble of constant praise and recognition from their families and so this kind of constant reinforcement and recognition is something they expect. But please, no Office Space “flair” programs. Instead, implement authentic work recognition programs.

9. Business casual. Gen Ys, as a whole, have more tattoos and piercings than any previous worker cohort does — and that personal style applies to how they dress and how they want to dress for work. While they can look great in business suits, many prefer a work environment in which they can wear comfortable clothing that expresses their individuality.

10. Intrapreneurship programs. Study after study shows that Gen Ys have an extremely strong entrepreneurial focus — with many planning to start their own businesses (partly so that they can control their own fate). Employers can retain workers longer — while leveraging that entrepreneurial spirit — by developing incubator and intrapreneurship programs and opportunities.

In summary, the savvy public HR director is well advised to remember that, when it comes to recruiting and keeping Gen Y employees, traditional HR strategies may not be the order of the day.


AuthorJoe Jarret is a public sector manager, attorney and mediator who lectures full-time on behalf of the Master of Public Policy and Administration program in the Department of Political Science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is the 2013-2014 president of the E. Tennessee Chapter of ASPA.

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