In my career as a management consultant, much of my work has involved working with clients to improve the “customer experience”. Over the last couple of decades this has become rather complex given the growing  number of  channels through which organizations communicate with customers, e.g. via retail stores, call centers, mail, third parties, TV, text, email and its website(s). Achieving a satisfactory experience, for various types of transactions, across all of these channels, is difficult and expensive.

However, there is a tougher challenge to come as we enter an era where it will become more difficult to hire employees than acquire customers.  We are entering an era when the “employee experience” will contribute more than ever to the ongoing success of a company or organization.

There are 2 macro trends that precipitate this perspective:

a) The worker shortage is coming – as the Baby Boomers leave the workplace and the economy continues to grow (the recent recession notwithstanding) – demographic projections show the demand for white collar workers will outstrip the supply, particularly IT workers.

b) Generation iY entering the marketplace - Generation iY are very different from previous generations and may be difficult to attract. (For more on the traits and prospects for Generation iY refer to Tim Elmore’s “Generation iY – Our Last Chance to Save Their Future”.)

older man and younger man working togetherSo given the contention for workers, my view is that companies must differentiate themselves as an appealing employer by accommodating the habits of Generation iY….by creating a workplace that provides a great “employee experience”.

Generation iY – who are they? Generation Y, also known as Millennials, is generally accepted to comprise those born between 1984 and 2002.  Generation iY is a subset of Generation Y, comprising those born after 1990. They are different from the earlier Gen Yers as they are defined by technology….they are the first generation growing up with the internet and communicate very differently.

I see it in my own kids – they communicate via screens of varying sizes; tablets, laptops, TVs, phones, PCs hosting various applications and games. The various gadgets/devices used by Generation iY have become extensions of the person with more than 8 in 10 admitting they occasionally sleep with their devices, (presumably not desktops!)  according to the Pew Research Center Report on Millennials (Feb 2010).

Using the findings from the above mentioned Pew Research Center report and Tim Elmore’s research, here are a few relevant attributes of Generation iYers:

  • On the one hand, they feel special and needed and at the same time act spoiled and conceited (They have been over-protected by their parents and are more likely to move back home after college than previous generations)
  • They think they own the world of technology so expect easy and instant results
  • They are adept at multi-tasking but can have difficulty focusing
  • They plan to live a life of strategic purpose and so avoid tasks that seem trivial
  • Unlike Generation X, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation, they do not see work ethic as one of the top 5 values of their generation
  • Their communication modes are technology based, often terse and easily misinterpretable

girl with 3 latpops multitaskingMany of these attributes will make their transition into the world of work difficult but they are also compassionate, and less desirous of material wealth:

  • Being a good parent and having a successful marriage are the 2 most important things in their lives
  • 63% think it is the responsibility of adult children to care for elderly parents (Boomer and Silent were 55% and 38%, respectively)
  • Only 15% think it important for them to achieve a high-paying career

Corporate America has to not only employ these young people, but fight over them!

So what should we consider in defining an “employee experience” to attract and retain Generation iY workers?  I suggest 4 categories of change to be incorporated as long-term programs:

  • Meeting of the minds

It is important that current employees, particularly  Baby Boomers and Generation X, provide not only a welcoming attitude towards these new employees but also be prepared to adjust the way they manage these staff in the tasks to be executed. This is not to suggest that the positive aspects of a company’s culture are necessarily diluted, so thought needs to be given on what can be changed and what must remain. On the other hand, the Generation iY employees need to understand that the extreme transparency of communication evident on social media is not appropriate for many work situations.

  • Use of technology to communicate

The web channel is the most explosive change in the way humanity communicates since the gift of speech was received and it will continue evolving in unforeseen ways. The proliferation of applications has only just begun, so it is important that companies regularly consider how they can evolve not only their internal but also their customer communications, as Generation iY will be employed by these customers also.

  • Innovate to teach and motivate employees

Online learning is becoming more commonplace in both higher education and the workplace. However, there is one category of online interaction that gives many pleasure and may be of surprising use in the workplace – gamification. Generation iY and many from older generations enjoy playing games on their various devices, so if work can imitate game-playing they are likely to be both more engaged and energized. Although not all experts are convinced of the value of gamification in the workplace, one has this to say: “The development of ‘serious games’ applied productively to a wide scope of human activities will accelerate simply because playing is more fun than working.” – Mike Liebhold, senior researcher and distinguished fellow at The Institute for the Future. Technology consultancy Gartner has projected 50% of corporate innovation will be “gamified” by 2015.

  • career life balanceIntegration of work and personal life

Generation iY exhibits an “always communicating digitally” lifestyle – they seem to be constantly communicating via social media or text. How to manage this tendency in the workplace is tricky. Banning this type of activity totally during working hours is not practical, especially as customers often use these same forms of communication. So a manager must be very clear on task deliverables and timing in setting targets for the new workers. Essentially, the arrangement is that the worker can mix work and personal communications in the workplace as long as they meet their work objectives, which may cause the length of their workday to be extended.

It’s a constantly evolving world and the way that we communicate and manage our team members needs to be evolving quickly to match the changes in the workforce.