How to Manage “Gen Y” Workers

April 25, 2010 Blog 2 comments


How are Generation Y (Gen Y) workers perceived in general? What should organisations do to attract and retain Gen Y talents? Are they any different from their older and more senior colleagues?

The answers to these and more were covered in a recent talk organised by the Institute of Advertising Singapore which featured the results of a joint research project between the GMP Group and Temasek Polytechnic. Also known as the Millenial Generation, the term Gen Y refers to the cohort of individuals born from the 1980s and 1990s. In the GMP-TP survey of some 2,610 respondents (including about 567 Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers), they are considered those between 18 to 27 years of age.
Generational Diversity in Today’s Workplace

According to the findings, Gen Y’s themselves considered other generations work ethics to be slightly positive, while other generations’ perceptions of Gen Y was seen to be slightly negative. Personally, I don’t subscribe to the stereotype that Gen Y workers are more difficult to manage (some call them “Gen Y Not” due to their perceived rebelliousness) and in fact, such thinking can be detrimental.

Fortunately, all generations (Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers) considered their organisations to be fair to all employees and not age-biased.

Recruiting & Retaining Gen Y

On the critical issue of starting salaries, the research showed that most Gen Y-ers had high salary expectations despite the adverse economic climate during the Nov-Dec 2008 period.

What’s interesting to note were the differences in views when it comes to retention strategies as seen below:

Top Factors That Motivate Gen Y to Stay In Organisations
1) Opportunities for career advancement (63%)
2) Good work-life harmony (41%)
3) Good relationships (40%)

Retention Strategies Most Used by Organisations
1) Opportunities for career advancement (43%)
2) Emphasis on learning & development (37%)
3) Good compensation (24%)

From here, it can be seen that opportunities arise in tailoring one’s HR strategy to be more aligned to the desires and needs of our younger workers.

Work-Life Harmony

Interestingly, this dimension seems to hold the greatest resonance between all generations. The majority “disagreed slightly” that there is work-life harmony in Singapore. Which is nothing new really!

Key challenges cited which affect work-life harmony are:
1) Workload (75%)
2) Time (70%)
3) Senior Management does not care about Work-life Harmony (55%)

What’s more alarming to note though was that other generations feel that Gen Ys work less than their official hours, while Gen Ys themselves feel that they work more than their official hours.

When Gen Ys have to work long hours, they themselves feel that its due to their own internal desire to work while other generations feel that it could be due to their own backlog of work (ie low productivity).



Finally, most Gen Y-ers believe that it is most important for their leaders to be caring (54%), inspiring (45%) and competent (44%). However, managers from the other generations believe in demonstrating competence (52%), honesty (32%) and a forward-looking orientation (31%) to the Gen-Yers they lead and manage.

Gen Y-ers prefer relationship-oriented leaders, while their managers believe in a more task-oriented approach in leadership.

So What Can We Do?

According to TP and GMP, Gen Y-ers should:

1) Adjust their salary expectations;

2) Focus on opportunities for career progression;

3) Take a practical attitude towards work-life harmony; and

4) “Just Do It!” rather than to always expect their managers to be their bosom buddies.

On the other hand, their managers who are Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers should

1) Communicate to inspire and explain why (show appreciation, regular dialogue, more ‘face-time’, be authentic). An example is to shift the conversation from making bricks to building a temple;

2) Engage Gen Y-ers through coaching and mentoring;

3) Provide different strokes for different folks (multiple reward systems and benefits);

4) Focus on deliverables and not methods;

5) Understand that just because you did it doesn’t mean they have to;

6) Teach them differently – from telling to asking.

What do you think of these suggestions? Do you agree with the results of the survey?

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. Being a Gen Y’er, I agree with the results of the survey. Thanks for sharing it.
    Vineet Nayar of HCL Technologies, in his book ‘Employees first, Customers second’, points out that most of the ‘transformers’ in an organization comprise of Gen Y employees. They believe in collaboration. They have to be kept in the value zone by encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset and decentralizing decision-making.

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