In 2014, Generation Y (20 to 33 year olds) will comprise half of the nation’s work force. With this reality just a few years away, companies are working diligently to learn how to best manage and motivate new workers while maximizing business productivity.

For the first time in U.S. history, four generations now constitute the U.S. work force: the Mature-World War II generation born before 1946; Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1965; Generation X (1966 to 1980); and Generation Y, the so-called Millennial Generation, born from 1981 to 2000.

As the business world yields to the talents and challenges of Gen Y, employers have two options, says Tom Healy, president of Reach Your Vision in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“At the end of the day employers have two choices: either adapt your organization to Generation Y with small modifications or try to reshape an entire generation. The latter is not going to happen,” Healy said.

Healy discussed how employers can best recruit and motivate Gen Y workers during the 2011 Western Plant Health Association annual meeting held in Scottsdale in October.

“If you can adapt and make small changes, this will help you find the key talent to help your business grow,” Healy told the agribusiness crowd.

Attributes of Gen Y include: a vision to succeed, a positive attitude, team oriented, creative and independent thinkers, a strong desire to learn, a sense of humor, and wanting to make an immediate impact in a company.

“We (Gen Y) have a lot of potential - we save you money — we are the future of your company, and we are not going away,” Healy said.

Every generation is shaped by parenting, technology, economics, life span, and life events. To better understand Gen Y, it is important to understand how these young adults were raised. Major events during their upbringing included the 9-11 tragedy, Operation Desert Storm, and the Columbine school shooting in Colorado.

Parents were the main factor in shaping Gen Y. Parents told their children repeatedly each day that they were great, special, and could become whatever they wanted to be. This message was echoed by grandparents and teachers.

“We grew up hearing this 17 times a day,” said Healy, a Gen Y member. “We were told this by our parents so we constantly need praise … It is an ‘everyone is a winner’ generation.”

 Gen Y will reshape how employers manage employees. At the company level, a corrective action for a Gen X employee requires positive verbal strokes. Healy recommends first emphasizing the employee’s great job performance, then discussing the employee performance problem, and then wrapping it up with more kudos.

In Gen Y’s search for employment, “creative compensation packages” can be more important than salary and benefits including company-paid 401K retirement matches. On Fridays, Gen Y values working half-days during the summer and wearing jeans.