Generation Y Why?

Retaining and Motivating the Future of our Organizations

"They're not committed to me, the job or the company."

"They're not willing to go the extra mile."

"They want everything right now."

Understanding Generation Y is becoming increasingly important as they continue to enter the workforce. Societal and economic changes have led to a different set of values and behaviors than previous generations. As the biggest entry level workforce (bigger than the Baby Boomers), Generation Y will require special attention and unique practices to retain and motivate them.

Their family structure is drastically different from the generations before them – the divorce rate has continued to rise (about 74%), while they have simultaneously been the center of their parents' lives, with their days meticulously scheduled for them. They have been affected by the widespread use of the Internet (83% use it daily) and the fast spread of globalization and diversity. Education and competition are also playing a crucial role, as it is no longer enough to go to college, students must go to a prestigious one. Additionally:

  • Poverty has increased 50% since the mid 1970s
  • Median price of homes (adjusted for inflation) have increased 78% in the last 30 years
  • Americans work an average of 160 hours more per year than 20 years ago, yet real wages have declined since 1973
  • Fortune 500 companies are laying off workers at an unprecedented pace, with the trend expected to worsen
  • Today people over 60 will receive $200 for every $100 they put into Social Security, while younger generations will lose more than $100 for every $450 they contribute to the system

These changes have led to a new set of values for Gen Y, and have made retaining and motivating them as employees different from every other generation.


Work/life balance is one of the most important issues for Gen Y. They need the flexibility to juggle their careers with their personal lives, and won't stay with a company that prevents them from doing so. They appreciate opportunities to pursue life outside of work, especially volunteer and/or community-oriented activities. Training and growth opportunities continue to be highly valued by Gen Y, and more importantly, they demand meaningful and frequent feedback on their work. If you want to keep a member of Gen Y, never adopt the "because I said so" attitude – there's a reason they're called "Generation Why?"

Although employee opinions and ideas should never be ignored, it is especially important for this generation. Employers that overlook unacceptable behavior from staff and allow the workplace to be disorganized will lose respect from Gen Y, and possibly valuable employees.


Gen Y prefers to be paid for results or performance rather than time or seniority. They want to be personally and publicly recognized and rewarded for their good work. Great rewards for Gen Y are increased responsibility, advanced training opportunities, bonuses, sponsored team activities and time off.

Be careful to balance a "boss" and a "team worker" role, by giving clear instructions with the opportunity for freedom and flexibility. Along with freedom and flexibility, this generation specifically dislikes micromanagement, but also does not appreciate or seek out "sink or swim" opportunities. Their focus on education, training and quality causes them to be weary of positions they are not qualified for.

  • Although these qualities ring especially true for Gen Y, there are expectations that employees of all generations share. The following have shown to increase employee satisfaction and productivity at work:
  • Clear expectations
  • Access to the right information, materials and equipment to perform their job
  • Opportunities to do what they do best every day
  • Recognition or praise for good work
  • Supervisors that care about them as people
  • Encouragement and support for development


Generation Y accounts for 81 million, between ages 5 and 25. In the next several years, they will populate the majority of entry-level positions, while the older members move into more sophisticated roles. They are the future of our organizations, a huge workforce that demands respect and flexibility. Companies that provide these will appreciate the full value of their Gen Y employees.

Recommend Us