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Carina Paine Schofield

Ashridge Business School

Research Fellow

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What do Generation Y really want?

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Generation Y, or those aged 30 and below, have grown up in an environment unlike any before them. They have been raised in a world of technology, where they have been more educated than any previous generation. As such, they come to the workplace with different wants and needs than their predecessors: different things motivate and drive this generation in their lives and their careers.
So what do Gen Y really want from an employer? Money is important, but it is not the biggest motivator. Unlike the generations before them, Gen Y work to live rather than live to work. Money and work are not what it is all about. For Gen Y it is more about the lifestyle – a good work-life balance, flexible working, feeling valued, and adding value – it is this that creates the strongest psychological contract with an organisation.

More demands

Every generation comes to the workplace with their own wants and needs, it is just that Gen Y expects more from an employer, and they are more demanding than previous generations. And if they don’t get what they want, they will move on.

The world of work is changing; long gone is the lifetime career. Whereas older generations worked first, then explored, Gen Y will be working longer and so want to explore the world of work first. They are more interested in spending their 20s experimenting, changing jobs frequently, and building a portfolio career: ’30 is the new 20’.

Ashridge research of over 1,000 Gen Y employees showed that over half of them expect to have moved on from their current employer within two years. The main reason for this being ‘unmet expectations’. So what really motivates and drives Gen Y? What is it they respond to?

When asked what they want from work, Gen Y responded with the following:

  1. Challenging / interesting work
  2. High salary
  3. Career advancement
  4. Job security
  5. Good work-life balance.

They described wanting a manager who:

  1. Respects / values them
  2. Communicates well
  3. Supports their career progression
  4. Trusts them to get on with things
  5. Listens to them.

They want a clear career path that is development focused; constant change; job variety, and, an opportunity to learn. The research also showed that Gen Y sought  a different set of values such as working for an organisation with ethics and integrity; working for an organisation committed to social responsibility, and, doing work that is of value to society.

Challenge the norm

Gen Y welcome the opportunity to challenge outdated ways of working that are entrenched in the organisational culture. They love to be incentivised to work with employers, to reshape job roles so that they are more effective and bring that crucial work-life balance.

Organisations need to ensure there are opportunities to voice ideas, plans and concerns. And, crucially, ensure the receipt of feedback that demonstrates listening. The strongest psychological contract can be developed through an open door culture, where Gen Y can feel empowered. Organisations can offer job swaps, away days in different departments, experience sharing events, multi-generational project teams, providing challenging work with scaffolding.

Rewarding now, not later

Rewards right now is also a key requirement  – they’re not about rewards when they retire, as with previous generations. And they want both personalised, individual rewards, and team rewards. And finally, despite changing employer more often, Generation Y still values a pension provision as much as their elders.

Modifying their recruiting, managing and retaining processes to cater for Generation Y may seem like a high maintenance chore to some employers. They may feel that they have been pressurised to make changes to suit their Generation Y employees. It is important to remember there is a multigenerational workforce – there are three generations in today’s workforce (Gen Y, Gen X and BBs).

Organisations need to support all age groups not just one. Many of the wants, needs and expectations described apply to all generations. Gen Y is just more demanding. They provide organisations with the opportunity to plan for the future, to get honest feedback and look hard at the workplace for all ages of employees. By meeting their needs, and offering suitable benefits, all generations will ultimately benefit. 

2 Responses

  1. These are great general
    These are great general points about Gen Y preferences, but I want to further validate them before using it to inform my work.

    If Ashridge research was your source for these findings, can you elaborate on your sample’s demographic information? What was the geographic spread, age spread, urban vs. non-urban, employed vs. unemployed, etc.?


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Carina Paine Schofield

Research Fellow

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