At 23, Lacy Lynch's career is already on the fast track: She's training manager for Sares-Regis Group's multifamily property management division, where she has worked for a year an a half. Her job, she says, allows her to express her individuality and creativity. It puts her on a career path that quickly moves her into positions of greater responsibility and larger paychecks.
If it didn't, she readily admits, she'd be gone.
Like the 60 million other members of Generation Y–the baby boom "echo" born between 1979 and 1994, roughly–Lynch, who trains about 300 employees a year for the Irvine, Calif.-based apartment management firm, wants what she wants–and in a hurry. She and her peers grew up, after all, with high-speed Internet service, instant messaging, and telephone texting that sends the user's thoughts–urgent or not–right now.
And right now, Lynch and her counterparts account for about 14 percent of the American workforce.
If you're a boomer or an Xer, brace yourself: Gen Y is a workforce that isn't interested in climbing ladders or paying dues, cautions Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking, a New Haven, Conn.-based research and management training firm that specializes in young workers. Companies that hire them, he advises, can forget about squeezing them into the same cramped career cubicle with workaholic baby boomers or reluctant Generation X employees, who are just a bit older. "Organizations that can't–or won't–customize training, career paths, incentives, [and] work responsibilities," Tulgan says, "need a wake-up call."
And that, notes Jennifer Buchanan, senior vice president of Greystar Properties' Atlantic region, "is a whole new ball game for us."
Buchanan, who estimates that 30 percent of employees in the firm's Charlotte, N.C.-based region are in their late teens to mid-20s, says the key to keeping Gen Y employees happy–and, indeed, to keeping them around–is to show them the steps they need to take to get to their dream jobs.
"If you don't recognize that they need a career path, you will lose them, and you will become a training ground," she says. "They need to take career steps more frequently than other generations to keep them on that path."
Lynch agrees. "There is somewhat of an assumption that they deserve immediate recognition and the ability to move up extremely fast without putting a lot of time in," she admits of her age cohort. "Generation Y is used to getting what they want. They don't understand why they have to put in more time or even years."
Buchanan says she tries to pair her young employees with more experienced workers whose "work ethic and get-it-done attitude have become part of the daily routine. It helps them to be around someone who has paid their dues and worked their way up. It starts translating at some point."
At Los Colinas-based JPI, the youngest workers need more attention from managers, notes JoAnn Blaylock, divisional president and managing partner for the firm's property management services, who estimates that 20 percent of the firm's 800 employees are between ages 18 and 24.
"They want to make sure that the work they do is meaningful," Blaylock observes. "They don't want to do a form that's a waste." So they question the value of their assigned tasks.
Steve Donohue, president and chief operating officer of Western National Property Management in Irvine, Calif., where a quarter of the 600 management associates are members of this millennium generation, agrees. "There's a lot of 'prove it to me' stuff," he says. "But once you prove it to them, they seem to march forward. Just tell them why."
Still, don't be surprised if these barely-out-of-school new hires pooh-pooh the company's tried-and-true methods of doing business, warns Tulgan. Technology has exposed Gen Yers to infinite ideas and choices since they were old enough to reach a keyboard, he says, so they "will challenge everything."
At the same time, their exposure to technology makes quick work of learning new software and navigating the online tools that have become common in the multifamily industry for leasing, communicating with residents and collecting rent payments.
"Their computer literacy is fantastic," notes Donohue. "They don't need as much help when it comes to [information technology]." And he adds: "This is the best-educated, most techno-savvy group of young people we've ever had coming into the workplace."
And Buchanan, the parent of two 20-somethings herself, notes that Gen Y's longtime exposure to the Internet, which brought the world to their computer screens when they were just toddlers, has given these young workers a global view of the world–something new for the locally focused multifamily field.
As a result, she says, "they're less tied by boundaries. They see beyond our market. They embrace the person from a different region or a different country who's going to inquire about our market."
In fact, notes Lynn Klug, vice president of training and marketing for Sares-Regis Group and Lynch's boss, many of these young workers embrace all kinds of people, and–despite their ease with the solitude of computer work–prefer jobs that put them on teams and allow them to meet the public.
That makes them ideal for creative, fast-paced jobs as leasing professionals, community assistants, and market researchers, says Blaylock.
Still, as with any new entrant to the workforce, employers need to temper boundless youthful expectations with the realities of the corporate world–with a nod to a generation that Tulgan says "aspires to be customized selves."
To that end, Sares-Regis Group includes in its training some lessons on business etiquette, "little niceties that weren't taught at home," says Klug. "It's tough to get them to write a thank-you letter, or to smile when they say 'hello,'" she notes.
And although communicating via e-mail is as natural to this group of technology-steeped newcomers as picking up the telephone is to their elders, Bozzuto Management President Julie Smith says young workers need lessons in writing e-mails in a professional manner.
"They all have iPods and [instant messaging] and text messaging," says Smith, "but that doesn't relate to our business. We're not communicating with our residents that way. ... You can't communicate with residents using abbreviations."
Bozzuto also helps its entry-level workers get used to a somewhat conservative dress code for employees–jackets, closed-toed shoes, modest tops–by lending each newly hired college graduate $1,000, interest-free, for new clothes. The firm also teaches the young recruits how to dress professionally and where to find the best buys.
"It gets people dressed for work really quickly," Smith says.
JPI, with a nod to the "just-in-time" generation's need for quick rewards, has its fresh faces work up a personal and professional development plan every six months so they can decide on career-advancing goals and see what they have to do to achieve them.
That benefit, available to all JPI employees, took shape last year, along with the creation of a management training program for young employees who want to hop on the fast track to more responsible positions in the company.
And with prompting from newcomers who "have a very high desire to see fairness, more than probably any other group I've seen," says Blaylock, JPI has changed the way it compensates employees.
Instead of regular wage increases that made all employees eligible for the same pay increases, JPI has adopted a pay-for-performance system that pools the money available for raises and doles it out based on how well each employee achieved the goals set at the beginning of the year.
Buchanan says the extra time and attention managers are spending on Generation Y will pay off for the multifamily industry in the long run.
"Generation Y sees the multifamily business as a real industry," she says. "This is the first generation that's really felt ... that this is a genuinely professional career."
As they stick with the industry, she notes, "they're taking us to a higher level of professionalism and a higher level of career orientation."
–Sharon O'Malley is a freelance writer in College Park, Md.
Perks That Work
Choose a package of work/life benefits that will appeal to workers across generations.
Bozzuto Management has given its Generation Y employees their weekends back. Historically open until 6 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, leasing offices in the Greenbelt, Md.-based firm's communities are closing at 5.
The move, says President Julie Smith, appeals to 20-something workers who treasure their friends and love socializing.
Of course, notes Smith, a shift in office hours has to make sense for residents, too, who tend to do their business with the company earlier in the day on weekends.
And it appeals to older employees as well as the entry-level staff. "It matters to families, too," she says. "It's the difference between taking the kids to a movie on Saturday night and being able to go to dinner beforehand."
Diane Piktialis, director of work/life products for human resources firm Ceridian, agrees, saying the oldest employees in the workforce also want work/life balance as they looking forward to retiring or become involved in caring for their elderly parents. "For different reasons," she says, "these two generations appear to be coming into alignment in a common desire for greater work/life balance."
But one-size-fits-all benefits won't satisfy both groups, Piktialis notes. "One size," she says, "fits one." For example, the child care benefits that appeal to employees in their 30s and early 40s aren't as valuable to 20-somethings who are marrying later or to older workers whose children are grown.
Instead, employers should offer flex time or tuition reimbursement to Generation Y employees who value socializing and continuing education.
The over-50 employee, on the other hand, might be more interested in elder care benefits and part-time work.
A successful work/life program will include choices for all ages, notes Piktialis, who offers employers this tip: To spread the word about benefits, program administrators should know that younger workers don't respond to the fliers, brochures, or even printable Web-based tips that their Baby Boomer colleagues value. Adept at video games and interactive Web sites, Generation Y prefers to key in data that will customize an on-screen response.