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Why the Y Gen Wants What We All Want – Fun and a Whole Lot More…

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Why the Y Gen Wants What We All Want – Fun and a Whole Lot More…

Dr Kathryn Owler

Commentary on ‘the Y Gen’ is becoming more common in management and employment circles. The Y Gen are seen to be a unique and challenging segment of the work-force. Given the tight labor market, employers understandably want to know how to recruit, manage and retain Y Gen talent. In this article I take a look at what makes Y Gen employees so ‘different’. I also investigate how responding to what Y Gen want, might find management favor with employees across the board!

Who are Gen Y?

The term ‘Y Gen’ refers to those individuals born between1980-1995. The Y Gen grew up under certain unique conditions. They are used to stimulation, change, choice and prosperity and are a highly optimistic bunch. Gen Y have been described as the stimuli junky generation, stimulated since they were toddlers. They just don’t know how to be still! They live for change, as they don’t know a world without it. Some have referred to the Y Gen as the “why?” generation. This generation wants to know the “why” behind everything. They have been submitted to so much information over their life-time: on TV, advertising, the internet, that they have to sift through. “Why?” becomes a sensible part of the sifting process.

The Y Gen are an extremely practical generation. They are socially and culturally aware, but not just ‘aware’: they are most likely to actually do something about what they believe in, be it environment destruction, racial discrimination and so on. Financially, the Y Gen are used to having been provided for. Middle-class baby-boomer parents were often working and what time they lost with parents, was often compensated for in material possessions and with money for entertainment.

A great deal of Y Gen’s have had to live through the challenge of parental divorce. They are not phased by challenge. They are also very interested in personal development. They crave independence in decision making, while enjoying an unprecedented financial dependence on their baby-boomer parents, well past school leaver age.

The description above is designed to paint a broad picture of what makes the Y Gen who they are. This generation poses some unique challenges for management.

What the Y Gen want from work

In his book, Generation Y: Thriving & surviving with generation Y at work, Australian Y Gen Paul Sheehan, outlines what the Y Gen want at work. Simply put, Gen Y have higher standards for how they should be treated at work. It therefore takes much more to keep them satisfied. It pays for employers to take this seriously, as otherwise Y Gen will simply talk with their feet!

What the Y Gen Want From a Job
• Purpose & meaning
• Responsibility – that is real responsibility
• Promotional opportunity
• New challenges & experiences
• Fair compensation – they expect the big $ by right!
• Increased employability
• Individuality & creativity
• Personal development opportunities!

What the Y Gen Want From a Workplace
• Flexibility – they are lifestyle centred
• Ethical
• Fun
• Belong and be engaged – to feel as if they belong
• Modern and edgy – workplace & operations
• Passion & optimism

What the Y Gen Want From a Boss
• Empowerment – the resources to do the job well
• Mentored not directed
• Fairness
• Recognition – thanks for a job well done
• Personal connection
• Involved & valued
• Competency

These characteristics represent both challenges and a range of opportunities for business. The key is to try and understand that the Y Gen are different. They will not just stay in a job out of a sense of organization loyalty. Some of the benefits Sheehan lists of working with the Y Gen include their not being phased by challenge, a focus on belonging, being open to new technologies and better ways of doing things, being extremely practical, and, importantly, prepared to take action.

Motivating & retaining Gen Y

In his book, Sheehan includes a lot of suggestions for how to motivate and retain Gen Y staff. These include providing good supervision/management, variety, fun, purpose and genuine support at work.

However, none of this is something that any employee would sniff at! Indeed, Sheehan believes that the desires of Gen Y are actually those of all workers at some level. Many baby-boomers (born 1946-64) for instance are opting out of the ‘rat race’ for a better quality of life, while many Gen X’s (1965-79) are leaving to start their own businesses. As Sheehan says, ‘If you, as an organization, were to become more Generation Y friendly, you would by default become more employee friendly. You would clearly be an employer of choice. This is because Generation Y want the same things we all want from a job, the only difference being that they expect it. Or, more frequently, they demand it’.

Y Gen and Fun at Work

One of the things that Sheehan explains the Y Gen want from work is a fun environment, where they feel valued as an individual. The Y Gen are extremely social. They want to be included and feel that they belong. Their youthful mindset generates a more playful attitude and makes the workplace more enjoyable. They may however need guided as to the difference between work and play.

Sheehan argues that all managers of the Generation Y should be allocated a ‘Play Budget’: ‘Money devoted to activities like a group social event, an inclusive (versus exclusive) competition, or even a surprise tray of doughnuts on a Monday morning.’ Ask the employees themselves what you think the budget should be spent on – this makes your decisions more effective. The improvement in morale and staff satisfaction, will contribute to productivity – that’s a no brainer!

The desire for ‘fun at work’ is certainly backed up by recent research. In both 2005 and 2006, The N.Z. Best Places to Work Survey, of almost 250 organisations, highlighted fun as a key driver, particularly for those in ‘Generation Y. While ‘Generation X’ and the ‘baby-boomers’ value fun at work, for these employees gaining a sense of purpose through achievement and belonging at work were perhaps more important. Nevertheless, published findings argue that respondents were adamant that fun at work plays an important role, placing a strong emphasis on celebration.


The Y/Why Gen are certainly a new breed, with a new attitude. However, what they want from work is perhaps not new. It does reflect what all employees would probably rather love to have! As Sheehan argues, the difference is that the Y Gen are expecting all the goodies! This is why employers are struggling to find ways to attract and retain Y Gen staff. However, as they are the staff of the future, doing so must be seen as inevitable. And, maybe we will all be better off as a result!

P.S. If you like this article. If you would like to use it in your newsletter, on your website or in your magazine, we would be happy to give you permission. Please email us and find out how.

©2007 JoyWorkz Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

P.S. This article has drawn in the main on the Henry and Sheehan sources


Henry, Avril. 2007. Inspiring Tomorrow’s Leaders Today: Breaking Down Generation Barriers.

Sheehan, Peter. 2005. Generation Y: Thriving & surviving with generation Y at work. Victoria: Hardie Grant Books.

Unlimited Magazine. (2005, March). The 20 Best Places to Work, 50-60.

Unlimited Magazine. (2007, March). Best Places to Work in New Zealand. Retrieved October 23, 2007, from


July 23, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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