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.

Perks

Ancillary perks are the main issue. An employee may accept 10 percent to 20 percent less pay for personalized benefits.

“By working half-day Fridays and wearing jeans, employers put golden handcuffs on us,” Healy explained. “We can’t leave and go to the competitor and demand those things. You can offer those and we will stay. We know the grass is not always greener on the other side.”

As Gen Y looks for employment, the job seeker determines how the company fits Gen Y’s lifestyle and social calendar. If a company does not have a Facebook account, Gen Y assumes the company cannot relate with them and will look for employment elsewhere. About one-third of the time spent by Gen Y on the Internet is on Facebook.

A second area is development. Healy says some Gen Y employees lack business skills. “Assume we know nothing when we show up on your doorstep,” Healy said.

Gen Y’s assumption is they are smarter than previous generations because they can perform some tasks faster.

“Our assumption is I can pick up a smart phone and access information quickly which means I know more than you. That is not the case,” Healy explained. “Younger employees over value their knowledge because they can more quickly access information on a smart phone and computer.”

Healy says Gen Y often lacks loyalty to a company. The employee’s loyalty lies with the immediate supervisor. If the valued supervisor leaves the company to work for a competitor, the Gen Y employee likely will follow. On average, Gen Y employees stay with a company 1.3 years.

“Gone are the days of a company man,” Healy said.

Gen Y needs daily verbal strokes from supervisors noting their excellent work performance. Gone are the days of annual or even quarterly job reviews, Healy says. Gen Y thrives, for example, on receiving an ‘attaboy’ text message from the supervisor at 7 o’clock in the evening.

“As we were raised, we were told daily we’re special, great, and wonderful for 21 years,” Healy explained. “If we don’t hear it from you (the employer) for a week we assume we’re not doing a good job. Complimenting us three times a week makes a huge difference.”

Healy encourages supervisors to get to know the personal side of Gen Y employees. If an employee is in physical training for a marathon, ask the employee how they are progressing toward their goal.

“Incorporating our personal and professional goals into one plan means you have a better chance of us staying with your organization.”

Gen Y wants to innovate and make changes in a company quickly. Access to the company’s CEO or key executive is a priority. One route to achieve this is to set up a black board where employees can offer solutions and a company leader reviews the ideas.

Gen Y is not afraid to quit a job without another position lined up. About two thirds of Gen Y are financially supported by their parents. “It’s no big deal if they quit — many are already living at home (with their parents).”

The job interview process is extremely important when considering Gen Y talent. Healy suggests employers challenge prospects harder in the interview, ask great questions, consider outside job testing of candidates, and provide a job shadow opportunity.