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HR leaders highlight importance of engaging Gen Y

Generation Y is quickly taking over the world, and keeping them engaged and productive is top of mind for HR practitioners. That's one of the prevailing opinions I heard often at this year's HCI Human Capital Summit in Atlanta, Ga.

I attended many sessions, including presentations by companies such as Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as panel discussions with HR leaders from companies such as Accenture, AutoDesk, and Kaiser Permanente. In most cases, the presenters referenced numbers or percentages of the different generations of the workforce.

But none were as prominent as Gen Y. Here are some of the stats I heard (all unconfirmed, straight from the speakers):

  • Gen Y accounts for approximately 50 percent of the world population.

  • 49.5 percent of the U.S. population is under 40.

  • The number of Gen Y workers is expected to double by 2015.

Understandably, there was a lot of discussion about how companies are dealing with dramatic changes in the workplace, not the least of which is the increasingly younger make-up of the workforce. While there were many strategies discussed for engaging Gen Y, here are two quick ones that I believe were consistent themes.

  • Listening, transparency, and trust. The Y-generation wants the workplace to be collaborative. They want to be empowered. Just ask Facebook, where employees choose the projects they want to work on, not the ones their bosses choose for them. To say they are a flat organization is an understatement. They have 1,000 engineers who all share one title: engineer.

  • E-mail is too slow and the resume is dead. Gen Y employees and potential employees are part of engaged communities. You must interact and engage them on their terms and at their speed. If you rely on the ways you used to communicate, or aren't networked with them, they won't be attentive to your messages. One company's goal is to have 40 percent of their hires come from networking within the next five years.

It's clear from many of the discussions that HR and, truthfully, the entire organization must look for new ways to recruit, engage, and retain workers of all generations.

Lastly, one other interesting statistic I heard: All companies still spend more money managing their hard assets (such as computers) than they do on their soft assets, or people. It would seem that fact is not lost on Gen Y (or any other generation). I suspect many are ready to leave their current companies for that and many other reasons.

It also tells me that companies cannot wait any longer to analyze their workforce and make substantial changes to engage and retain their workers. Some of the reasons they can't retain them will be the same reasons they won't be able to attract new workers in the future, especially from Gen Y.

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