Who is Generation Y … and What Do They Care About?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Generation Y is generally defined as the generation of individuals born from 1981 or ’82 to 2000. That means that these young adults, also called Millennials, are 12 to 31 years old. Statistics Canada puts the number of Millennials at about 8 million – slightly more than the generation just ahead of them, Generation X, which numbers 7 million. (For reference, there are about 10 million Baby Boomers and 4 million Traditionalists, the Mature Generation.)

As this new generation enters Canada’s workforce and begins to play a role in shaping our future, it’s important for us to understand the attitudes, strengths and leadership qualities they bring to the table. Let’s start with an examination of how this generation has grown up and the influences that mold their behaviors and ideologies.

Members of Generation Y have grown up (with the younger ones continuing to grow up) in a world dominated by technology. Technology is second nature to most of them, and their thirst for information is strong, because the Internet, with its breadth of information choices, has long been an integral part of their lives.

Related to this hands-on technology orientation is their sense of connectivity with others. Cell phones and social media keep Millennials in constant touch with friends, family and, in many instances, “strangers” who, either by association with friends or family, or by shared interests, become “friends.” This frequent social interaction with a wide array of geographically and culturally diverse individuals leads Millennials to an appreciation of diversity and a reliance on the team approach in decision-making.

Also second nature to Generation Y: multitasking. This generation’s constant communication is merely a backdrop to their responsibilities of the day, and it’s not unusual for them to be watching TV, texting, studying and eating all at once.

From a social responsibility standpoint, Millennials are committed to finding their place, taking a stand and making a difference. They rally around causes with passion and commitment far stronger than that of previous generations. Social media plays a large role in their empowerment, enabling them to solicit the involvement of their peers en masse.

With these life experiences shaping their belief systems and actions, what strengths and potential do Millennials bring into the corporate world? An unprecedented sense of team, complemented by technological expertise, confidence and commitment to corporate and global endeavors. This generation is optimistic and goal-oriented. They embrace emerging technologies and ideals and bring an extraordinary level of intellectual energy to their work.

Being part of the corporate cause, or mission, is of utmost importance to Generation Y workers. Consummate collaborators, they are forthcoming in sharing information and look to bond with their associates and supervisors for the collective good. Still, they are driven as individuals, looking for managers and mentors who support their professional development, and constantly seeking opportunities for growth and advancement. Millennials also place a high value on work-life balance, meaning they look for flexible hours and opportunities for personal time.

Though it’s too early to tell the widespread contributions Generation Y will make to our society as a whole, it is clear that they are already leveraging their knowledge and technological dexterity to leave their mark. They are encouraging corporations to adopt stronger sustainability practices and socially responsible policies. They are helping us incorporate emerging technologies to improve our efficiencies and capabilities. And they are instilling a sense of connectivity that promises to enhance our social and professional relationships while pulling us together toward common global causes.

Sources: Benefits Canada, Catalyst, TEC Canada.