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Gen Y employees want freedom and respect - and they want it now

In just over 10 years, approximately 75 per cent of the North American workforce will be comprised of members of Generation Y. This presents significant challenges; with Canadian political, business and non-profit leaders facing numerous issues from energy and environmental conversations to indigenous engagement and educational quality and attainment. How will this generation prepare to work independently and take on leadership roles at all levels of society?

Already, many talented members of Generation Y struggle to find meaningful forms of employment. Indeed, we are far from reaching a point where employers successfully engage their generation Y employees, a necessary condition if this cohort is to tackle some of Canada's most pressing issues.

In conversations we had over four months with nearly 30 business leaders, we found some surprising trends and views about Gen Yers. Our intent was to spur on intergenerational conversations and make each generation aware of the challenges and biases employers and employees may hold about each other. These are some of our findings.

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1. Generation Y is entrepreneurial

The CEO of one of Edmonton's fastest-growing technology firms told us,"Millennials need thorough reasoning before they buy into something. They question things more and it sometimes causes friction within companies. On the flip side, that's how we started our venture – we asked why there wasn't anything better in the market and found a niche to fill." Employers that provide their employees with room to experiment, question and build will see enhanced engagement innovation and productivity from their new hires.

2. Too much ambition breeds impatience and disloyalty

Boomers and even Gen X employees have long understood the value of gaining years of experience with a company before they are promoted or even before they enjoy pay raises. Generation Y employees, on the other hand, bring a more impatient and entitled approach to career advancement according to many of the business leaders we interviewed. For example, the Chief People Officer of a financial institution and crown corporation in Alberta stated that, "older generations believed in vertical movement in logical steps. Life was organized more logically. Generation Y kids have grown up thinking of and in networks so they behave differently. They go where the solution is, not necessarily through protocols."

Investing time and funding into one-on-one feedback and personal skills training appeared to be one remedy to the impatience displayed by Generation Y employees. One local organization has succeeded in retaining its young employees by developing a culture where promising employees earn additional training opportunities that enhance areas where they need additional polish. As one economic development corporation that used this approach discovered, this type of investment requires significant time and attention to detail; it cannot be faked.

3. Generation Y employees need freedom to innovate and employers must listen to their ideas

A young leader told us that Generation Y is "more likely to leave for an employer that offers a new perspective over one that offers security." Employers tend to respond to this statement with trepidation, the first thought being that they will lose their young talent soon after the hiring process. Innovative companies know that this does not have to be the case. A prominent online learning company uses its youth advisory boards as a way to engage with young leaders across the continent, thus tapping into a network of campus ambassadors in its decision-making processes. A city-based grassroots entrepreneurship organization has made extensive use of its youth advisory council in sharing ideas and experiences, which inform both the organization's decisions and even those of a government ministry seeking feedback on how to build youth entrepreneurship ecosystems.

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Overall, our research suggests that Generation Y is an ambitious, impatient and yet tremendously promising generation, one that employers must listen to in order to bring fresh ideas and perspectives to traditional operations. Though successfully connecting with Generation Y may be challenging at times, the consequences can take employers from good to remarkable, and prepare for an uncertain and rapidly-changing future.

Randy Boissonnault is the President of Xennex Consulting, Volunteer Executive Director of Literacy Without Borders and a Rhodes Scholar. Emerson Csorba is a 3M National Student Fellow, CEO of Gen Y Inc. and the Chair of TEDxEdmonton. On April 1st, The Globe and Mail and Gen Y Inc. will co-host a webinar on Gen Y in the workplace, #GlobeGenY on Twitter for more details.

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