Generation Y – are they really so different?

The desire for greater flexibility cuts across generations. Smart businesses will make the transition, says Amanda Seabrook, managing director and founder of Workpond.

9025680314_2bb7e66d66_o.jpgThere is a large and under-represented group of people who do not want to work in the way that we have traditionally worked. These are experienced professionals of all ages who want to work part-time, flexible hours, remotely, on a consultancy or interim basis. Changes are occurring in the workforce and we need to grasp how the future workplace is going to look.

Official labour market statistics from December are thought provoking. Of the 8.8m (21.8% of 16 to 64s) branded ‘economically inactive’ (excludes those on Job Seekers Allowance), 1.7m are ‘keen to work’. There are 8.4m people working part-time, 134,000 more than in December 2014. Four million of us are working from home – and another 1.8m are estimated to want to work from home. According to Timewise and The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, only 6.2% of advertised roles have any mention of flexibility.

Who are these change makers? Why are they rebelling?

A real catalyst for change has been the recession. Prior to the recession, corporates were “The place to work” – the biggest were considered to be the best. In reality, it’s difficult to negotiate your way to the top – they require you to work extremely long hours, albeit for good reward. However, for many, these companies have not provided job security or the progression desired. We come across many who have left good corporate careers to set up on their own. They have worked out what their area of strength is and set themselves up as self-employed or in niche consultancies, selling their services back to their previous employer or client.

The catalyst may have been redundancy or simply a need for autonomy. Many feel unempowered when they are working for a large organisation and the time comes that they want to take a risk and gain their independence. It also allows them to redress their work-life balance.

There are others who want to balance caring responsibilities, unpaid voluntary work or hobbies with work. They want to work to live rather than live to work. This doesn’t mean they are not committed – it just means that they want to work fewer hours.

So who are these people?

These people are from all four generations. They represent a complete cross section of society and are often top performers who have the financial flexibility to reduce their earning power. The abiding theme is that things don’t add up for them and they can see a better way to balance work and life. Money is not their primary driver.

They are challenging the way things are, recognising that our current working patterns were established when we all needed to be together in one place for a fixed period each day to make things. And they see a 37.5 hour week, nine to five as somewhat arbitrary. Why not a 20-hour week?

So much has changed since the industrial revolution, both in the way that we work and how society has changed:

  • Most of us work for companies offering services rather than companies producing goods.
  • When traditionalists and baby boomers started work it was far more structured, formal and hierarchical. This has gradually given way to a more relaxed approach and flat organisational structures.
  • Women’s place in the workforce has changed dramatically – and there are now barely any barriers to what women can do.
  • Globalisation has increased competition – but has also meant that we are working with and for people throughout the world in all different time zones.
  • We live further away from work than we did in the industrial revolution, so our time to work is far greater, as are the costs of getting there.

But more significant than the social change has been the enormous technological change enabling us to work almost anywhere with no loss of productivity. This is transforming how businesses can organise themselves and how people engage with each other. Workers can see that there are better ways to spend their time by flexing hours to avoid the traffic or working remotely at times. They can then put the saved time towards things that matter to them and have a more fulfilling life.

How does generation Y fit in with this picture?

Generation Y requirements are a natural progression of these trends. They have first-hand experience of flexibility like no other generation. A greater proportion of them have grown up with two working parents – some working full-time and some flexibly. They have built up a view of how they want to work from watching these experiences. They are not looking simply at work as a means to make money, but as a part of their life. In the “Future of Work” report, published by UK Commission for Employment and Skills in 2014, 92% of Generation Y surveyed identified flexibility as a top priority when selecting a workplace.

Another trait of Generation Y is that they are not swayed so much by authority as previous generations. School children today have a completely different experience of authority. The relationship is more collaborative and hierarchical.

How does that make me feel about Generation Y? They sound pretty grounded to me.

Companies that find it difficult to integrate Generation Y into their workforce should look closely at their structures and find ways to transition into something that works for new generations. Businesses need to face up to the fact that Generation Y make up 20% of the UK population and that Generation Z is about to pop onto the scene. There are already around 12.4m flexible workers as well as people working remotely or flexibly who aren’t captured in the numbers. Surely, it’s time for businesses to redesign themselves?

Trends that are going to affect the Future of Work:

  • Longevity – current ONS statistics show that we want to work for longer so shouldn’t we be redesigning the workplace so that we don’t get kicked out by Generation Y when they take the reins?
  • Collaborative Technology – the Internet of Things, cloud computing, big data
  • Artificial intelligence will create efficiencies and replace high-end advisory roles – 60% of the jobs 10 years from now haven’t even been invented yet!
  • Mobility – work anywhere, anytime, on any device
  • New behaviours – shaped by social media and the web
  • Globalisation – no boundaries

We see enormous similarities between the needs and desires of Generation Y and the change-makers in the workforce who are pushing for more flexible ways of working. We know that companies that are embracing these changes are reaping the benefits. We know that individuals who can successfully integrate their work and life are happier and more productive at work. Businesses need to be smart and get prepared.

Amanda S

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