BC Council for Families

Generation Y: Challenging Employers to Provide Balance

Who are Generation Y and do employers and managers in the non-profit sector really need to fear them?

Generation Y – also frequently known as the Echo Boomers, the Millenials, the Net Generation, or the Next Generation – are those people born between 1982 and 1997.  Over the past few years. as these workers have begun entering the workforce, a number of human resources challenges have emerged that will impact how non-profit organizations recruit, motivate, and retain workers in the future.  First and foremost amongst these issues is work-life balance.

According to some human resources experts, Generation Y is almost single-handedly responsible for the recent surge in corporate attention paid to work-life balance.  In fact, why bother calling it work-life balance anymore?  As Gen Y-ers see it, it’s life-work balance, with the emphasis on “life” first.  Work, for this young cohort of professionals, needs to fit within their lives, and they are not willing to shape their lives around the demands of work.  They want a quality of life that includes family, friends, and community, and the most common request these employees make of their employers is for an increased recognition of their life outside work - of the obligations, responsibilities and demands that they face beyond the office.

In today’s tightened, employee-driven labour market, organizations that respond to the needs of these workers will benefit – by attracting and retaining the best and brightest.  To attract this generation into your workplace, your organization will need to focus on delivering life-balance, and build in the flexibility and the scheduling options that are so important to ensuring the retention of these workers.   And if your organization doesn’t take balance seriously, beware:  by some estimates, today’s Gen Y members will hold an average of 25 (yes, twenty-five!) jobs in their lifetimes, so if you’re not delivering what they’re looking for, they will quickly look elsewhere.

For experts such as Nora Spinks, president of Work-Life Harmony Enterprises in Toronto, who has over 20 years of experience in guiding both non-profit and for-profit organizations through the complexities of bringing work-life balance into the workplace, the cultural shift that Gen Y has introduced is long overdue.  Not that long ago, points out Spinks, an employee’s responsibilities outside of work were rarely recognized in the workplace.  By contrast, almost all workplace cultures now accept, and expect, that workers will have overlapping roles:  meterologist and mom, community programmer and caregiver to an aging parent, financial analyst and father.

One notable indication of the growing importance of work-life balance, captured in the latest Canadian census, is the increase in numbers of new fathers opting to take time off from work following the arrival of a child. The percentage of fathers who took parental leave increased almost 20% in five years, rising from 37.9% in 2001 to 55.2% in 2006.  Graeme, a 20-something father-to-be in Vancouver who is planning to take a leave of absence from his job following the birth, comments that “It’s important to me to make sure that work doesn’t prevent important things in my life, and it’s nice to think that work will be there when I’m ready.”

Understanding the needs of Generation Y professionals will be crucial to the success of any organization wishing to avoid the costs of rapid employee turnover, and interested in attracting and retaining a workforce that will be dedicated and productive.  For non-profit organizations, that means investing now in work-life balance policies.

Marilee Peters
Communications Director, BC Council for Families

Originally published in Family Connections Volume 12 Issue 2 of Summer 2008.

© BC Council for Families, 2011. All rights reserved.

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