Understanding Generation Y

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Generation YA new report on managers in their twenties and thirties sheds new light on their attitudes to work, skills and training, and what motivates and inspires them. Sue Mann reports on the surprising findings.

Many long-held beliefs about Generation Y are shattered in a report just published by the Chartered Management Institute. Exploring the aspirations, working styles and motivations of today's younger managers, it exposes as myth the view that Generation Y is self-absorbed, disloyal and impatient.

The study, entitled 'Generation Y: Unlocking the Talent of Young Managers' by Dr Alison Macleod, and published in association with Ordnance Survey, is based on qualitative and quantitative research of managers aged 35 and under. It indicates that today's younger managers are focused on long-term skills development to boost their career options.

Photo of Vanessa Lawrence"It is clear from the study that younger managers wish to acquire transferable skills; with the shortage of skills across the UK continuing to be a factor for organisations, this is something that should be welcomed."

Vanessa Lawrence, Ordnance Survey

Combined with analysis of the views of management students, the study will be invaluable in helping business leaders and employers understand how to recruit, develop and retain younger managers. It builds on earlier research published by the Institute in 2002, entitled 'Great Expectations?'.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Ruth Spellman OBE, the new chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, said: "Young managers are ambitious for roles that will be challenging and rewarding. This presents organisations with an opportunity and a challenge; to steer young managers and to provide opportunities for them to achieve their potential. Otherwise organisations will struggle to retain them."

Vanessa Lawrence, director general and chief executive of Ordnance Survey, said: "It is clear from the study that younger managers wish to acquire transferable skills; with the shortage of skills across the UK continuing to be a factor for organisations, this is something that should be welcomed. The research confirms that there is considerable value in investing in training, both for the individual and the employer."

The research explodes the following myths:

Disloyal and impatient?

Young managers are more career-minded and willing to commit than the stereotype suggests. They may not be prepared to accept things at face value but their willingness to challenge is based on a desire to develop, rather than a belief that they have all the answers and can change the world.

There is no support for the idea that this group shies away from hard work. On the contrary, plenty of young managers are prepared to put in the hours, if they feel the work is worthwhile. The difference between this generation and the previous one, according to the research, is that today's younger managers are less keen to accept life-altering opportunities, such as transfers abroad. They are more committed to integrating work with their life choices and relocating a long distance from family and friends may not always be compatible with this.

Self-absorbed and cosseted?

Today's younger managers are not the selfish, 'what's in it for me' generation that so many believe them to be. In fact, far from being self-indulgent, Generation Y is driven by a sense of purpose and the search for meaning in their work. Pay doesn't factor highly when they choose roles – what counts is whether an organisation does something that individuals can believe in.

All the same?

The findings show that although there are some characteristics and desires shared across Generation Y, employers would be wrong to label them as all wanting the same thing. While all exhibit commitment, some have single-minded dedication to their work and a clear career path; others are driven by ethics and values.

In many ways, Generation Y is predictable, with the appearance of a challenging and demanding group. However, different managers want different things from work and the attractiveness of the 'generation' label should not blind older managers and employers to the complex individual story that may lie beneath.

Personal development

A clear majority of younger managers surveyed by the Institute recognises that success isn't a given, with a high proportion looking at personal development plans to help them achieve their ambitions. They are more likely to move, than previous generations, if career development opportunities are not met, but this is largely down to a desire for work that challenges them than a thirst for immediate promotion.

Photo of Jo Causon"The study shows that two-thirds of young managers have initiated most of their own learning at work, but if UK Plc is to really progress, organisations must match the enthusiasm and link training and development to the strategic needs of the business."

Jo Causon, CMI

Jo Causon, the Institute's director of marketing and corporate affairs, says: "Generation Y has been dismissed as self-centred, yet the evidence shows that this is not the case. Overall there is a strong desire to develop at work and enjoy their job, with inability to progress a strong negative for them. Yet, at the same time, busy individuals working long hours can quickly become demotivated and leave. In an era where skills are at a premium, organisations need to be aware of this and act before it becomes reality."

Transferable skills

The research indicates that the majority of managers in their twenties and thirties are moving from their first management role towards establishing their careers, but are doing so against a background where the opportunity to develop transferable skills have been limited.

Too few organisations seem to be investing in skills development – a factor which will only impact on UK productivity in the long-term.

Causon says: "Today's younger managers want the skills which will help them build portfolio careers and, encouragingly, are doing something about it, themselves. The study shows that two-thirds of young managers have initiated most of their own learning at work, but if UK Plc is to really progress, organisations must match the enthusiasm and link training and development to the strategic needs of the business."

Development opportunities

The words most frequently chosen to describe 'employers of choice' were approachable, supportive and inspiring. Clearly, younger managers want some form of structure to help develop their skills and careers, but there are big gaps between what they want and what they get. The problem, for employers, is that unless they are able to deliver, they will lose staff to the competition.

This article is an edited version of a feature which appears in the current issue of Professional Manager, the journal of the CMI, written by its editor Sue Mann.

'Generation Y; Unlocking the Talent of Young Managers' by Dr Alison Macleod, is published by the CMI in association with Ordnance Survey. The full report is available to order at a cost of £75 to non-members. Email [email protected] or telephone 0207421 2721. An executive summary is free to download from www.managers.org.uk/Gen-Y

For information about becoming a chartered manager, telephone +44 (0)1536 207429 or email [email protected]. Or go to the CMI's website www.managers.org.uk.

Key findings

* Selfless, not selfish: far from the stereotypical view of Generation Y as self-indulgent, today's younger managers are driven by ethics and a sense of purpose. Only 13% claimed they 'would quit their job tomorrow' if they won the lottery. 90% 'want to work for an organisation that does something I believe in' and 56% 'would only work for organisations with strong values'.

* Committed to the cause: debunking the myth that Generation Y lacks commitment, the report shows that 63% of respondents have been in their current job for three years or more and only 4% strongly agreed with the statement that 'there's no point being excessively loyal to an organisation'. Almost two-fifths (38%) also work in the evenings, if necessary, 34% work at weekends and one-fifth (23%) also use 'travel time' for working.

* Long-term career planning: the idea that Generation Y is less committed to career planning has also been shattered by the study. Asked why they joined their current employer, many (75%) focused on the long-term career opportunities available. Almost two-thirds (62%) claim to have a personal development plan in place and a similar proportion (65%) suggest they 'know what they need to achieve their ambitions'.

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