Andrea S. Hershatter, the director of the undergraduate business program at Emory University, has seen a decade's worth of students graduate into the corporate world. She spoke with Staff Editor Lindsey Gerdes about what sets Generation Y apart in the workplace and how companies are learning to accommodate them.
What do undergrads care most about when they're being recruited?
It's all about authenticity. In their consumer behaviors, too, the promise of the brand has to match the reality or they will quickly shift their preferences. The ones who are unhappy in their first jobs in general are not complaining about the amount of work or day-to-day tasks. It's that the culture doesn't feel as meaningful to them, or isn't as conducive to belonging as they expected.
What about companies using social networking Web sites to reach out?
I think organizations are now able to tap into millennials to teach other millennials; the ones who emerge as the go-to people are the ones who are already very visible, kind of like the tour guides on campuses.
Can employers try too hard?
Absolutely. Millennials look up to the generations that preceded them. They don't want attempts to think on their level and use their lingo. It's very artificial.... They don't want to friend their boss on Facebook. That inserts the company into places millennials are very protective of.
What distinguishes this generation?
There is a strong, strong millennial dislike of ambiguity and risk, leading them to seek a lot more direction and clarity from their employers, in terms of what the task is, what the expectations are, and job progression. Sometimes it's difficult for employers to characterize or quantify things the way millennials like.
Any other disconnects?
I think boomers are having an easier time mentoring millennials than Gen Xers. Boomers may feel very paternal about the millennials—they may have some at home. Gen Xers had to figure it out for themselves, and there may be some amount of resentment. Midlevel managers might just wonder: Who are these kids? What crazy thing are they going to say to my boss? How is that going to reflect on me? How am I going to control them?
What about their sense of entitlement?
They are like quarterbacks: The whole team has been blocking and tackling for them so they can run the ball, and they come to expect that level of blocking and tackling so they can get the job done. They don't feel entitled because they're special, they feel entitled to have others support them in their efforts to accomplish and achieve.