Are You Ready for Generation Y?

Jan K Grude believes employers must keep abreast of the demographic trends that are allowing employees to demand terms and conditions were unheard of not so long ago. He spoke to Gary Flood.

In the 'good old days', men were men, women were women and the average white collar employee was a white middle-aged married man who was sole breadwinner in his household. We’re not living in the good old days any more.

"In the next ten years, 76 million baby boomers will be retiring."

That may not be news to you, but not enough top management in global enterprises or central and local government have fully grasped the full impact of the changes our society and culture is going through, says Jan K Grude, president and executive managing director of benefits consulting company Buck Consultants LLC, a wholly owned arm of business process outsourcing giant ACS.

‘In the US alone, in the next ten years 76 million baby boomers will be retiring, but only 46 million new members of the workforce are coming in,’ he says. ‘And traditional solutions to filling workforce gaps, such as immigration, are no longer so politically palatable. The large labour pools of the past are gone.’


This massive shift in demographics is being accompanied by a completely new mindset in the job seeker. ‘Staff used to be happy to get a job, any kind of a job. Now they have a lot more choice, and it is really is a matter of choice as to where they will go,’ adds Grude.

The workers of tomorrow – young people between 17 and 26, sometimes dubbed generation Y – are technologically literate, being the iPod generation. However, they are also surprisingly literate financially (many already have retirement plans), they like change and challenge, they want to work in a collegial atmosphere, and, like it or not, they intend to stay with you for three to five years at the most.

‘Any business leader expecting lifetime commitment from staff – not just a young person, but a middle ranking manager – is plainly delusional,’ says Grude.


However, it’s no use bemoaning such lack of ‘loyalty', he says. Instead, the smart CEO and HR leadership must build the kind of environment today’s job seeker will want to work in, albeit temporarily.

"Any business leader expecting lifetime commitment from staff is delusional."

‘Your opportunity is to create a place where you will get the very best you can from that highly self-actualising staff member for that three-to-five-year period and be happy when they go, not petulant,’ says Grude. ‘Be flexible and creative, think more about sabbaticals and welcome people back when they have gone off for a while, rather than sulking that they’re going.’

He encapsulates this approach to people management by suggesting that the right response to a declaration that an employee is contemplating a year’s travelling is to suggest that they drop by the company’s offices in Singapore or Sydney along the way to see if a month’s temporary work might be on offer.


This sounds like a radical suggestion. However, Buck’s solid, blue chip credibility suggests otherwise – rather the company’s experience in crafting benefits solutions for companies over the truly long term has given it the ability to spot long-term employment trends that other companies often miss.

Buck, a 92-year-old company specialising in benefits management for multinational enterprises, likes to take the long view – it still has a relationship with its first client, the administration of the City of New York, from 1916, and has multi-decade arrangements with organisations such as Shell and Heinz. But don’t let the history fool you. The company has its eyes firmly on the future – unlike some of its customers. And that future has an employment profile unlike anything we’ve seen before.

The message is clear: talent retention is not about golden handcuffs so much as the golden boomerang. In the complex world of tomorrow’s global business, we may all end up having much more multi-faceted CVs than the city fathers of Manhattan would have seen in 1916.

Jan K Grude, president and executive managing director of benefits consulting company Buck Consultants LLC.