Want to ignite the Gen Y workers on your IT team? Look to Apple for insight. Or do we look at this from the perspective of the Industrial Age?


I am regularly asked by my clients for advice on hiring, managing, and promoting an exceptional type of employee who just won’t play by the traditional rules. I am speaking of course about Millenials, also known as Gen Y (born 1982ish-1998ish).   Just wait for Gen Z!

There are mixed reviews on Millennials. I find that the Millenials on my team are typically more confident than people of previous generations. They tend to want more out of life.

Gen Ys often are labeled the “entitled” generation –it is often thought that because they were raised on a steady diet of constant praise they developed some narcissistic tendencies.

So given that the early-born Gen Y is now 34-years-old and rapidly moving up the ranks to take over as IT manager or leader, there is concern about whether the generation which social scientists say are having an extended adolescence is ready to grow-up and lead.

As a human capital specialist in a domain dominated by whiz kids, I have devoted much time to assessing the hard and soft skills of this particular demographic. I have spoken to them in-depth about their personal and professional challenges, aspirations, expectations and fears. I have consulted with team leads, managers, V.P.’s, CTOs and CEOs at large corporations to small start-ups.

Armed with inside knowledge, I can assert that contrary to public opinion, Millenials have a strong work ethic, take pride in what they do, and care about outcome.

It is true that they have a sense of entitlement – they believe they’re entitled to work for an organization that will empower them to succeed. Where IT leaders deliver on this belief, they’ll see a jump in productivity and retention.   This is a valuable point to consider given we know this generation can be quick to quit. The US Bureau of Labour stats show Gen Y employees stay in jobs for an average of just two years. So how do we retain our Gen Y teams?

What I have found to be most important to this group in particular is interesting work.  They are motivated by the value of their work for improving society or the lives of those they serve.

I have always maintained that the workplace must evolve to reflect societal changes. Right now, Gen Y is driving the evolution.To resist this reality is to potentially have disengaged and fickle 20-something and 30–something –year-olds on your teams.

Here’s one key example of why I urge Gen X (1965-1982) and Boomer (1946-1964) bosses to ensure their leadership style reflects the way our younger workers think and act. Remember that once-popular recipe for how to live well, “Work hard, play hard.” That was the bargain Gen X struck with their employers.   They would keep their nose to the grindstone during work hours in exchange for income. After hours, their life was theirs to enjoy. Boomers, on the other hand lived to work.

That’s no longer the case, and certainly not for those in IT.   Today, work and life don’t keep separate hours – they intermingle. This is all the Gen Y employee has ever known.

As a result, Gen Y employees are genuinely perplexed as to why it’s not okay for them to check on Facebook during the day. After all, at night, they’re answering emails from the boss and resolving problems during Breaking Bad. IT leaders who recognize their frustration do something that is very 2014. They collaborate with their staff to devise new workplace rules that make sense to everyone. And that’s how evolution happens.

According to TRU, a global youth research company, Millenials have chosen Apple as their favourite brand for five consecutive years. Scott Hess, VP of Insights for TRU, says that’s because this generation views Apple the same way as they view themselves.

This is a valuable perspective for IT leaders to consider. Take a look below at how the attributes between Apple and Gen Y line up.   You will also find my recommendations — tried, tested and proven effective in organizations of all sizes across the GTA — for empowering, motivating and retaining Gen Y employees and managers.

The top 5 brand attributes that Apple and Gen Y have in common:

Premium yet accessible: With cheerleaders for parents, Millenials have a typical tendency to see themselves as exceptional. At the same time, like Apple, they value friendliness.   Case in point: Studies show Millenials average 200 to 900 friends on Facebook. Unlike past generations, this demographic proactively asks people to be “friends” as a matter of course.

In the workplace: Be generous with praise and provide lots of feedback.

Busy IT leaders often interact only when technologists are doing something wrong – they operate on the principle “ no news is good news.” That doesn’t work for a generation bred on constant encouragement. Gen Y thrives in workplace cultures where there’s plenty of informal two-way communication — they’re used to offering opinions and sharing about their life — and where they’re told what they’re doing well, not just what they’re doing poorly.

Savvy yet approachable: This holds especially true for those in IT. They realize they’re more technologically literate than 99% of the world. But they don’t want their knowledge to separate them from the crowd — they want to be part of something that matters.

In the workplace: Gen Y need vision, purpose, and team

I can confirm the findings of TRU that Gen Y employees want “commerce with conscious.” That’s why brands that support causes (like Tom’s, Ethos Water) are hugely popular. Gen Y wants to work for companies with team spirit and a mission to better the world in some way, and which let them give back.

Massively personal: Like Apple, Gen Y believes in personalized customization. This generation embraces inclusiveness – yet wants to put their individual stamp on everything and make it their own.

In the workplace: Empower employees with responsibility.

Millenials, more so than previous generations, yearn to be empowered. What excites Gen Y IT specialists at work is to feel they’re individually making a difference to an outcome. They don’t relate to a traditional command-and-control style of management, and many flinch at the word “boss”, but they’re personally invested in flat structures where they are given autonomy and responsibility.

Programmer Luke Bucklin, co-founder of The Nerdery, a US interactive development firm and winner of multiple Best Place to Work awards, emailed his 470+ tech experts (many Gen Y), “You are not your title…You are a co-President. You are bigger than your defined role, and you are more than your job title. Play your part, transcend your job title, be a hero.” CEO Mike Derheim credits his company’s success to a staff dedicated to living up to the title of co-President.

Technology isn’t a means to an end, it’s a fun-enabler:   For Apple and Gen Y, technology is exciting for its own sake.

In the workplace: Bestow freedom to play

For the Gen Y technologist, moving towards mastery is considered “fun”.   This generation integrates work and play, and do well with employers that encourage creativity and fun on the job.

Evolution is the thing: This generation believes in non-stop innovation. They like that Apple releases new versions in quick succession because they are seekers of newer, bigger, faster, smarter.

In the workplace: Challenge Gen Y to imagine what could be

Gen Y are highly motivated to problem-solve. But talk to them about the way “we’ve always done it” and they tune out.   The past, and your experience of it, holds minimal interest for them. This is a generation that is extremely future-focused and believes in possibilities, not history.

At heart, Gen Y isn’t so different from other generation. People of any ages want to feel engaged by their work. But that’s not the only thing that makes us similar –consider what George Orwell has to say about it: “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” Now what about the Gen Z’s (1999 – ), the Digital Natives? Next month, I would like to explore compensation packages and some possible incentives that work besides money.
Joanne Boucher
D: 416-847-4962; E: Joanne.Boucher@bagg.com; ca.linkedin.com/pub/joanne-boucher-cpc/4/945/94/

Joanne is the General Manager for Bagg Technology Resources, bringing over 20 years of industry experience in Project and Solutions Resourcing, Solutions offshore and near-shore for application development and data warehouse project delivery, Information Technology, Engineering, Management, Contract/Full Time Resourcing. Joanne’s goal is to deliver distinct flexible resource solutions to meet and exceed the requirements of her clients and candidates by understanding their goals and challenges, by leveraging technology and by respecting the intrinsic value of our each person she comes in contact with. Joanne believes that the relationships developed in resourcing are lasting and works with both resources and clients on long term plans and goals. This consultative approach has enabled her to be proactive in forecasting clients’ requirements and assisting resources with their career direction. To enhance her ability to understand the requirements of her clients, Joanne has enhanced her post-secondary education with Information Technology courses at Ryerson University. – See more at: http://blog.bagg.com/category/tech-news/

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