5 ways to make your company Gen Y-friendly

Facing a potential onslaught of baby boomer retirements and a smaller pool of Generation X employees to replace them, IT managers who want to create or sustain a Best Place to Work environment will need the additional help of another group of professionals: Generation Y. Also known as Millennials, this group consists of nearly 80 million individuals born roughly between 1979 and 1999. They are the workforce of the future.

But what will it take to attract and keep these individuals? Are Generation Y's ideas about what makes a great employer different from those of other generations?

Yes, and no.

In many ways, the Millennial generation wants exactly what professionals from previous generations expect from employers. When polled for a recent study by our company and Yahoo HotJobs, the most senior members of Generation Y — those aged 21 to 28 and beginning their careers — placed salary, benefits and opportunities for professional growth at the top of their lists.

This isn't to say, however, that they are like their predecessors in every way. In terms of their workstyles, professional expectations and career concerns, they show some distinct preferences. Based on their responses to the survey, here are a few suggestions for making your company Gen Y-friendly.

No. 1: Offer attractive benefits. Salary is a key consideration for members of this group, but so are benefits. Growing up at a time when the U.S. health care system is delivering fewer services at higher costs and the future of Social Security benefits is in doubt, Gen-Yers are most attracted to companies that provide first-rate health care and retirement benefits.

No. 2: Promote work/life balance. Nearly 73% of Gen-Yers surveyed said they are concerned about being able to balance a career with personal obligations. Consider implementing specialized arrangements — such as flextime, telecommuting or a compressed workweek — that give employees more control over their work schedules.

No. 3: Narrow the rungs of the corporate ladder. Millennials are willing to work hard, but when it comes to moving up the ranks, they want to do so quickly. According to the study, 51% of Millennials surveyed believe professionals entering the workforce should have to spend only one to two years proving themselves in entry-level positions. That means you aren't likely to attract or keep talented Gen Y employees by requiring them to spend years "paying their dues."

No. 4: Ensure managers are engaged and accessible. In the survey, Millennials described their "dream boss" as being understanding, caring, flexible and open-minded, as well as someone who is authoritative but respects, values and appreciates his employees. They aren't looking for a micromanager, but they do value good management skills and regular contact with their supervisors; in fact, 35% of those surveyed want to communicate with the boss several times a day.

No. 5: Foster "face time." Even though Gen-Yers grew up with cell phones, e-mail and the Internet, two-thirds of survey respondents selected in-person conversations with their co-workers as their preferred communication method. You'll encourage longer tenures and greater loyalty among employees if you create opportunities for them to interact with others. Consider arranging workgroups in open seating areas, establishing project teams or developing a mentoring program.

Although Generation Y employees bring specific values and ideals to the business world, it would be a mistake to view all of them simply through a generational lens. Avoid stereotyping and be prepared to tailor your workplace policies and management strategies when necessary.

IT professionals who are members of Generation Y expect a lot from their employers, but they also expect a lot of themselves and enter the workforce eager to make contributions and prove their value. The key to successfully recruiting and retaining Millennials is taking the time to learn what they care most about on and off the job.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis.

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