“Keeping generation Y happy” by Vincent O. Abella (Jun 28, 2010)

SUITS THE C-SUITE By Vincent O. Abella
Business World (06/28/2010)

At the turn of the millennium 10 years ago, the business environment prevailing then was described as the “New Economy.”

It was chiefly characterized by the surge of Internet-based applications and companies. Organizations recognized that knowledge and technology would be the major drivers of the future.

Today, we are now in that future. It has been a full decade since Y2K and we have all experienced how the Internet has burgeoned. Technological advances are being churned as rapidly as one changes wardrobe to stay in fashion. “New economy” now sounds passé; we now talk about a “global economy.”

This so-called global economy is marked by a business world that is constantly adapting to changes at breakneck speed due to technology, increasing regulatory compliance and monitoring, an ongoing war for talent and the emergence of a new breed of young workers.

Collectively termed, Generation Y (born from 1982-2000), this is a generation that grew up with computers as their playthings. In fact, Gen Y children consider laptops, cellphones, MP3 players and other gadgets as bodily appendages. Also called “millennials,” they are now entering the work force. It is a workplace that is very different from what their parents had known because of the shifts in work practices, changing lifestyles and new customer demands that have permeated the business world.

Gen Y employees have, at times, been unfairly depicted as not having the same work ethic as baby boomers, that they want to achieve success faster, that they are likely to show less company loyalty and that they can be too self-absorbed. These resulted from their being raised by parents who focused on building self-esteem and who encouraged their children by telling them that they can become whatever they want to be.

In reality, however, the Gen Y approach merely mirrors the inevitable changes in the workplace and C-suite members need to understand how to manage the very people who will eventually succeed them. By looking at the flipside of the Gen Y character, we will see the more positive traits that they can bring to the organization and what leadership should harness. These include Gen Y’s excellent networking skills which have been enhanced by the social networking phenomenon. Millennials are not afraid to network across geographical and cultural borders. These make them very highly mobile workers.

Gen Y employees also rebel against hard and fast rules like rigid office hours. They appreciate some flexibility in their schedules that would allow them to balance work and life. They allot time to participate in more socially responsible tasks because they would like to make a personal impact on their communities, if not on the world. They grew up learning the word volunteerism. This makes them very good team members.

Quite obviously, the Gen Y’s biggest asset is that they are extremely comfortable with using technology in just about every aspect of their lives. This translates to highly organized individuals who keep track of their commitments and deliverables with their lists on their iPods and PDAs.

Human resource (HR) practitioners agree that we have entered a new era where the employee is dominated by technology and can be overwhelmed by it. It is the role of HR to temper this highly stressful situation by providing employees with supplemental activities to help balance their lives and in so doing, keep them happy. Some have termed it “employee relations management.” After all, employee retention continues to be a major challenge for many companies.

Going back to the year 2000, SGV had already recognized this approach by introducing its People Care Program. We had hoped to shift from a very conservative culture to a more relaxed one. Needless to say, it was very tall order for a firm that traces its roots to traditional audit and accounting services. The objective was to transform into a cool company.

The changes were both tangible and intangible. Our cafeteria morphed into a giant Internet café, a mini gym sprouted and new groups were formed such as a mountaineers club and a choir. Free beer flowed one Friday each month after work, business casual attire became acceptable, flextime was introduced. Some initiatives worked while others emerged less applicable.

With Gen Y entering our ranks, our People Care Program itself needed some tweaking. It was again time for SGV to adapt to the changing times. Now called our People First Program, the current initiatives aim to address the needs of Gen Y within the context and demands of a professional services firm.

On top of the list is physical wellness. SGV has hired a trainer who can guide its employees when they work out in our in-house gym. We have also contracted a nutritionist who will ensure that the food in our cafeteria is healthy. To this end, the cafeteria itself will be undergoing a complete renovation to accommodate a kitchen that is equipped for the preparation of nutritious meals.

We have also formed a class called Running 101 with a renowned trainer to encourage our staff members to be physically fit. The running club has attracted hundreds of employees and many have joined running events; some have even progressed to triathlons.

For those less physically inclined, we have revived our Camera Club to tap our people’s creative side. We also continue to provide speakers on a wide range of topics through our award-winning Liberal Arts Program.

Since Gen Y is bent on making an impact on the world, we have stepped up our Corporate Social Responsibility activities as a firm to help them realize this goal. We have participated in tree-planting, rehabilitation of schools damaged by typhoons and helped build homes in our Gawad Kalinga and other GK villages.

Last but not least, we have tapped the services of a Life Coach who will assist our Gen Y team members to navigate through their professional and personal lives. In turn, this will help us understand them better and how their strengths can redound on the firm.

In the past 64 years, SGV has seen generation after generation of employees — each bringing their own sets of behaviors and beliefs. Despite the differences, we recognize one common underlying fact and that is we have to take care of our people since they are our greatest assets. In the end, it is the caring that will make the difference.

(Vincent O. Abella is Head of the Human Resources Group and Principal in the Advisory Services Group of SGV & Co.)

This article was originally published in the BusinessWorld newspaper. It is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinion expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.