Listening to Gen Y: The Future of Work

There are way too many myths surrounding Millennials (aka Generation Y). To prepare for the way work will shift in the future, we need to dispel the notion that they are disloyal and difficult to manage.

The book I am writing on the future work has brought me into some thought provoking conversations with my favorite generation. I am particularly fascinated with what Gen Y brings to work and have personally loved working with them over the past 5 years, especially those from Emerging Markets like Turkey, Romania and South Africa. I also had the pleasure to lead the Early in Career Network in Cisco Canada and that again showed me how the workplace will need to change and adapt.

Why Should We Pay Attention?

By 2025 (that’s only 11 years from now), 75% of the workplace will be under the age of 30. If you look at the correlation of GDP and talent growth by 2025, what you’ll see is limited growth in the developing world (-40M workers). The talent is coming from the developing world (where there will be +1 billion workers) and they will have a different worldview and employability challenges in their own countries. And by 2025, workers can be anywhere as long as they can get the job done.

When Was the Last Time You Talked to A Gen Yer?

I would highly recommend you spend some time with Gen Yers as they have a very different perspective on life and work. Some of their views are refreshing. There is very little sugar coating, as they will share openly what is on their minds.

So if you haven’t had a chat recently, here are some of the many areas that you should know about.

The Loyalty Myth. Don’t tell them that they are not loyal and that they don’t commit to one company. They often wonder about the one-sided loyalty companies profess. On one hand, they are expected to be “loyal” to the company they work for and other hand, that same company can announce a major layoff and send them out the door. They call it as it is: hypocrisy.

The Lack of Commitment Myth. Talk to any Millennial and they’ll tell you that they are focused on getting their work done. But they don’t need to come to an office from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm to work. They don’t feel they need to be managed if their responsibilities are clear. As one recently shared with me: “who cares where you do your job?”

The Lack of Values Myth. For those in sales, they will not sell to an organization that they don’t believe in and need to work for a manager who will allow them this flexibility. They care more about living their values than hitting their sales targets, although I can assure you that if you provide them with the right environment, they will exceed your sales targets.

The Job Hopping Myth. The myth is they spend 1.5 years at a job. If you look closely, you’ll find that while many will have 7–10 jobs by the time they are 50, many will spend at least 4–5 years in a job to gain experience and also get to know the company. They tend to leave organizations because of limited professional development or lack of opportunities. Lack of leadership commitment to delivering on promises will also push them out the door. They want to be promoted as they see that as growth, which is one of their key motivators.

The Financial Myth. Money is also a motivator but it is a basic one. Many want a simpler life that is less encumbered with material possessions as a sign of success. And others pursue the life of a start-up entrepreneur more as a way to have flexibility and be able to take risks.

The Disengagement Myth. There are many in this generation who want to make a difference in their work in ways that have not been created yet. It goes beyond what we believe is their passion around corporate responsibility and making sure the organization gives back to the community and is responsible in its actions. They want side projects, outside their job, that focus on giving back.

The Age Myth. Ageism exists in the workplace. People will try to bypass the younger employees in conversations and decisions. They often find themselves in situations where they have to assert themselves. They want to be judged for their contributions and ideas; not their age. And when you spend quality time with them, you’ll realize you should be listening. When I launched the Reverse Mentoring program in Emerging Markets at Cisco, it was the first time very senior executives received some very direct feedback on their communication by these passionate employees who simply wanted to make a difference. They find many senior executives detached from what happens outside of headquarters. Their recommendation to leaders is talk to as many employees as possible and if you are running a global company, visit as many countries and listen to people.

What Keeps Them Going?

One of the best ways to tap into this talent and help them stay motivated is to provide a great work experience and allow them to get involved in side projects. They also thrive in environments that provide ongoing feedback and growth opportunities (and this is not about the older generations desire to get ahead. This is about growth and personal development).

This is a generation that wants to leave a mark so help them find meaningful projects outside of their day job. While they want to feel valued, they also know that it is an unrealistic expectation. But many are idealistic and want to work for a company that is changing the world. They believe they can work for a for-profit organization and change the world.

Originally published at on October 25, 2013.

8 thoughts on “Listening to Gen Y: The Future of Work”

Jim Love says: October 28, 2013 at 7:47 pm I have no doubt that most of what passes for knowledge of Gen Y is indeed myth. The Gen Y emloyees I have are hard working and dedicated. They do take some convincing that the BS of a regular company doesn’t apply here — we actually are loyal to employees that are loyal to our company. We also share in the rewards openly and honestly — that takes some time for them to believe in. But even though it takes some time to believe (and I don’t blame them) they really give of themselves and their efforts.

Ayelet Baron says October 30, 2013 at 12:25 am So agree with you, Jim. I am astounded by all the myths that have been created. I do believe, like any generation, there are some that have the qualities that people attribute but it is a rather small percentage. I love the honesty and the lack of BS — real people who want to have a life and learn throughout their lifetime by challenging themselves in different jobs.

Ashley says: November 1, 2013 at 6:19 am I love everything about this post. So many Millennials that I know (including myself) get bored easily, want to work for something bigger than ourselves and want to make a difference. We want a flexible work schedule and will be productive at work if we believe in its mission. Thank you for dispelling these myths and encouraging others to listen, not assume. Although there are certainly those people across generations who have a sense of entitlement, they give the rest a bad rap. We are the future of work and we’re going to change the world.

Monika says: December 2, 2013 at 10:11 am Just as Ashley, I also agree with your post in every single aspect. Having the attitude of a millennial is fun & challenging at the same time; but absolutely worth it. I’ve been working with a team that is dedicated to change the way people present themselves professionally. It’s about interests and not CVs, which would only summarise what people did for how long.

One of the community members calls herself a GenY expert. You’ve got to believe her, as she’s worked for a number of magazines like i.e. Rolling Stones and did a bunch of other things too. You might want to check her out: Take care, Monika

Ayelet Baron says:December 2, 2013 at 11:11 am Thanks for the insights, Monika. I believe that we also have to look beyond the demographics of age and see what people bring to work. Part of the larger challenge is that the 21st organization needs to change and adopt new practices that will unleash its people.That is the secret sauce that the 20th century practices are holding on to so tightly and what Gen Y is addressing by bringing who they are to work. There is also another trend that few talk about, which is the aging Xers who are seeking more meaning and purpose in their life and are no longer committed to working 24/7 as a way of life. Thanks for the link. I will check her out as I love expanding my knowledge! This is why I love the Internet and the community it helps create …

Monika says: December 3, 2013 at 2:25 am It’s quite interesting. It seems like GenY just doesn’t want to make the same ‘mistakes’ like GenX. My former boss said something very clever about this: She said that in a period of time people do things, in the next period they consider everything done in the previous period as stupid only to make their own mistakes. Then they realise that not everything done in the first period was as unnecessary as they thought and adapt some of them again. That’s evolution I guess. I’d be more than happy to invite you to join the community. As it’s invite only, you can use this link:

Tony DeMartile says:January 6, 2014 at 5:14 pm Millennial thinking is smart. We plan for all types of job life cycles in our business. Sometimes all we have to offer is a 5 year run of information… Sometimes much more. It’s individual, and personal. My son is 19 and he prefers to work on creative projects for a defined amout of time. He’s engaged and focused, then he wants time to live, play and reinvent. I wasn’t a fan of this approach, but realized I really wanted the same. Cheers to evolution!

Offer medicine to the soul as an author. speaker. guide. Former Cisco strategist. Thinkers50 author. Forbes 50 Female Futurists #indieauthor

Offer medicine to the soul as an author. speaker. guide. Former Cisco strategist. Thinkers50 author. Forbes 50 Female Futurists #indieauthor