Workplace generation gap growing Featured

5:28am EDT December 1, 2004
In businesses today, it's not uncommon to see a 63-year-old, gray-haired employee with a pencil and calculator next to a 22-year-old, spiked-hair new hire who is text-messaging friends while surfing the Net. The differences between these two underscore the challenges and opportunities in today's workplace.

With more generations now represented in the workplace than ever before, it's important that managers recognize that each generation has unique needs and desires. And according to research from Randstad North America's 2004 Employee Review, the difference between the oldest and youngest among us can be wide indeed.

While baby boomers and mature workers might have thought Generation X caused enough ruckus when its members entered the work force, its 40 million membership is paltry compared to Gen Y's 68 million. Because of their numbers, education and abilities, members of Gen Y will influence the workplace for years to come.

For starters, when the economy improves enough to see job growth, expect them to be the first out the door. Fully half of them say they're always looking for a better job. Although only 36 percent of Gen Yers say they want to still be working at the same company two years from now, 65 percent rate job security as important in their decision to stay with their current employer.

Members of Gen Y saw their parents laid off after years of service, and they learned to look out for No. 1. But they come into the job market with a high level of computer skills and an eagerness to learn and grow. They bring a lot to the table but expect a lot in return -- perhaps more so than any other age group.

This group has never lived in a world without personal computers. They surf the Web more than they read newspapers or watch TV. Tell them a story about being stranded with no phone, and they'll assume your cell battery died.

Their very different life experiences make them adept at multitasking, and they tend to be very team-oriented. In fact, nearly six out of 10 Gen Yers say liking the team of people they work with is an important reason for staying with their current employer.

Gen Y is the most educated generation ever, but as is common with young, new hires, this group generally has limited practical experience. They are, however, willing to learn. Randstad's Employee Review found six out of 10 Gen Y workers say their workplace's on-site/internal training is important in their decision to stay, yet only 43 percent say they're satisfied with the opportunities they have to learn new things in their current job.

That compares with 55 percent of Generation X, 53 percent of baby boomers and 56 percent of mature workers who say they're satisfied with learning opportunities at work.

Gen Y's dissatisfaction with training opportunities spills over into their overall satisfaction with their jobs. Only 43 percent of Gen Y workers say they get a lot of personal satisfaction from the work they do, compared to 65 percent of Gen Xers, 68 percent of boomers and 77 percent of matures.

Since Generation Y is the future of the workplace, employers need to know how to attract them and keep them productive. Allowing Gen Y employees to participate in decision-making, challenging them, training them and allowing them to "party" from time to time and enjoy some flexibility will enable companies to reap big dividends from America's newest workers.

Randstad's 2004 Employee Review findings are based on 2,639 telephone interviews conducted by RoperASW with employees and employers throughout North America, making it one of the nation's most extensive workplace attitude surveys. For more information, visit www.us.randstad.com.

As Randstad North America's managing director of human resources, GAIL AUERBACH is responsible for recruitment and retention of the company's more than 2,000 employees in more than 500 locations in the U.S. and Canada. Reach her at gail.auerbach@us.randstad.com.