Generation Y: Global Leadership in a Changing World

By Jennifer Gerves-Keen

There has been a lot of ink over the past few years dedicated to the generation referred to as the “Y” generation (ie. born between 1978-1990), and some interesting and in-depth discussions have arisen around values, recruitment, retention and their technological umbilical cord.

Most of what has been written about Generation Y has largely discussed how to “deal” with them, understand them and how to successfully communicate with them. While this has all been valuable, what I find fascinating about Generation Y is the fact that they are the first generation in history to share similar values across borders, languages and cultures.

For the sake of discussion, let’s take two very different countries and cultures: Canada and Iran. When I compared the generational values of Canadians with those of Iran (for a corporate presentation in Tehran) they were obviously very different. North America had the Baby Boomers, the 1960s, nuclear threats, and Civil and Women’s Rights movements, just to name a few. Iran experienced the Shah regime, the Islamic Revolution and the war against Iraq, as well as constant political and economic turmoil.

However, the core values of the under 35s in each country are very similar. Job satisfaction, meaningful work, the right to choose, work/life balance, access to technology…these mentalities, mainly due to technology, are shared in developing and developed nations across the world. What does this mean?

Only the future will tell us for certain. It is certainly encouraging and inspiring to think that our future generation of leaders will have fewer barriers to break down, and may even achieve unprecedented global friendships and economic partnerships. We need to concentrate our energies into mentoring these future leaders so that they have the communication skills to make the deep-seated changes necessary as we head into a decade where the workplace and the workforce will change beyond recognition. Business needs to foster the tolerance, openness, technological savvy and energy of this generation to help them face the many labour challenges that loom in our future, particularly in the area of effective recruitment and retention.

In terms of human resources, Iran, like many developing countries, is facing the opposite challenge to Canada. They have the youngest demography in the world as 60% of their population is under the age of 26. Their young people are facing severe unemployment, and with the constant threat of being ‘expendable’, are finding it difficult to find jobs and careers that match their educational level and expectations. This has created a very similar restlessness and professional dissatisfaction and uncertainty regarding the future as we find within the same age group in Canada for entirely different reasons. If Canadian business does not start to face the current and future labour challenges proactively, our economy will further lose its competitive edge, and our future leaders will start to look elsewhere.

We live in a world of constant mobility; we need to adapt, find solutions and change our way of dealing with individuals in the workplace to make ourselves attractive to top talent. Some American business have already started implementing ROWEs (Results-Oriented Work Environments) which give the employee complete control over when, where and how they work. This is just an example of the necessary change in thinking we need to achieve in order to keep up with current technology and values.

Think Y; ask, ‘How?’ 

We have a long way to go to get there; let’s at least start the conversation. 

Jennifer Gerves-Keen, MA, is a consultant and coach, helping local and international organizations become more effective through improving workplace communications. Her current work involves assisting organizations with generational challenges, attracting and retaining Generation Y, diversity hiring and leadership coaching. She can be contacted at jgerves@gmail.com or 604-802-8268.

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