Gearing up for the Gen-Y era

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From left: Alliance Bank Malaysia’s executive vice president and head of group human resource Chew Siew Suan, Forrester’s senior analyst Clement Teo and PwC Malaysia’s partner and financial services leader Soo Hoo Khoon Yean.From left: Alliance Bank Malaysia’s executive vice president and head of group human resource Chew Siew Suan, Forrester’s senior analyst Clement Teo and PwC Malaysia’s partner and financial services leader Soo Hoo Khoon Yean.

By Edwin Yapp

While interviewing one of Malaysia’s pioneer start-ups in the software space a couple of years ago, I asked the CEO what one of the toughest challenges faced by him and his company was. He told me the recruitment of manpower – particularly young software engineers – these days was and continues to be a problem.

He said that young people today have stronger ideals like where and how they want to work. They are Internet literate and constantly connected with the Web via their personal computers and smartphones. They also seek freedom of expression everywhere they go and are always looking for the next better thing to transition to.

“For us, we had to embrace the use of Twitter and Facebook when others shun their use. By doing this we have managed to attract the right kind of people who like this creative environment and we have been able to make ourselves relevant to the market and our staff,” the CEO said.

In recent times, the recruitment and talent retention of these young people, commonly known by their moniker Generation-Y or simply Gen-Ys, has been difficult due to the aforementioned characteristics.

This is compounded by the fact that Malaysia’s population has been described as one of the youngest in the region with a median age of 26.2 years in 2010, according to the Malaysian Department of Statistics.

This number implies that there is a growing percentage of Gen-Ys starting out in the workforce, many of whom want access to their social media feeds all day, as well as demand a highly diverse working environment with high remuneration and non-monetary perks such as flexible working hours.

Appreciating Gen-Ys

So how do companies deal with this phenomenon?

Chew Siew Suan, the executive vice-president and head of group human resource of Alliance Bank Malaysia, believes that there are creative ways to address this issue.

Gen-Ys expect to fulfil their social, training and lifestyle aspirations at the workplace while in pursuit of their personal ambitions, she says.

“From our interaction with our Gen-Y employees, we find them to be extremely tech-savvy, always ‘connected’, they learn quickly and are engaged with their social network.

“They also read and process information differently; hence they often have a different viewpoint about work, ethics and relationships with the other generations,” she adds.

To retain Gen-Y employees, Chew notes that it’s important to show appreciation for their individuality and allow them to have an input into the decision-making process.

It’s not just about giving orders or instructions but also to provide a logical rationale behind every decision whilst at the same time, re-affirming their role in the organisation, she adds.

“There are now inter-generational gaps that exist in the financial services industry (FSI), between the baby boomers and the Gen-Ys,” Chew explains. “This requires managers in the FSI to appreciate Gen-Ys’ value systems in order to maximise their true potential.

Besides this, she adds that creating a collaborative and conducive work environment is important as is promoting employee engagement across all generations at the office.

“For example, our bank has rest-and-relax or ‘chill-out’ rooms equipped with wireless connections, TV, coffee machines, board games and comfy chairs for their usage. We also hold regular team engagement and activity-based projects which help inculcate stronger bonds among teams.”

Social media policies and Gen-Ys

Forrester Research notes that the aspirations of Gen-Ys tend to be largely short-to-midterm. The technology research firm says generally speaking, Gen-Ys do eschew fast track careers and high pay for fewer billable hours, flexible schedules and a better work/life balance.

“Generally, we think Gen-Ys are, by and large, attracted by the prospect of working in a large financial organisation, and the concomitant pay/perks,” says Clement Teo, senior analyst with Forrester.

Teo believes that while recruiting Gen-Ys is less challenging, retention could pose a bigger challenge and this could be due to reasons other than being able to use social platforms at work, such as low work/life balance and small salary increments, etc.

According to Soo Hoo Khoon Yean, partner and financial services leader at PwC Malaysia, the consumption of social media for Gen-Ys during work hours is an unstoppable trend and that it’s pointless trying to restrict them from using social media at work.

“We suggest that companies provide the right guidelines and recommendations, so that they can leverage on their employees to be their brand ambassadors and help to attract more talent to the company. At the end of the day, it’s all about trust and having a common understanding of accountability.”

Rather than viewing social media as a distraction, Soo Hoo suggests that social media be used to drive innovation through the sharing of ideas and social collaboration, which helps to speed up communications among employees in dispersed locations.

“At PwC, we use an enterprise social business platform to connect with PwC staff across our global network of firms to exchange ideas, collaborate on projects and find solutions to business issues. We find it helps us work more effectively and systematically, even though we work in different continents and time zones.”

Forrester’s Teo advises: “Gen-Ys as a group constantly seek feedback and guidance so managers should strive to keep them frequently in the loop, and offer constant praise and reassurance to their young charges. They will also benefit greatly from mentors who can help guide and develop their budding careers.”

But at the end of the day, Chew says it isn’t merely the job description that entices Gen-Ys; they also seek fun, quality social connections, work-life balance, workplace culture, flexibility, personal development, and fast track career advancement.

“Despite the various challenges, Alliance Bank has seen very encouraging outcomes when Gen-Ys are integrated in the right manner with the other employees as they are enthusiastic, optimistic and full of ideas,” she says.

 

Edwin Yapp is a freelance editorial consultant and co-founder of Digital News Asia, a technology news portal that covers the Southeast Asian tech scene. He can be reached at [email protected] */]]>

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