Debi O’Donovan, editor of Employee Benefits: Younger generation will reshape the workplace

Last month, young people grabbed much of this country’s news coverage. Whether it was on the topic of A-level results, the scramble to get into university a year ahead of fee increases or, much more dramatically, the England riots – youngsters were all over our screens and papers.

Over the past few years, during the economic downturn, more than one commentator raised the point that the young will eventually start to react to their current place in society. There are higher levels of unemployment among younger people, many twenty-somethings are burdened with student debts not experienced by those just a few years older, and many of those with jobs feel they are stuck at the bottom of the pile as workers of all ages cling to their jobs during tight economic times, hindering progression. The list goes on as to why younger people might feel they are getting a raw deal compared with the generations ahead of them.

It is far too simplistic to lump all young people together and say they all react in one way, or that they have all been treated unfairly, or that all the behaviours of recent weeks are justifiable – life and society are far too complex for that.

However, the playing field is shifting in a way that HR and reward people need to take note of, because these social changes will have long-term implications in the workplace. In our cover story this month on reward for the younger generation, we unpick the younger end of the Generation Y cohort – what makes them tick and how they are changing the way society (and, by extension, the workplace) interacts. A common theme appears to be a demand for flexibility and the importance of using technology, not least for communication and social networking.

A good illustration of this is our employer profile on telecoms provider Three. Much of its staff, and no doubt its customers, are young people, so it is fully aware of the need to be creative in the way it engages the young.

As a Generation X-er myself, I can remember our cohort being criticised for rebelling against the formal straitjacket of corporates. Yet out of that generation came a number of changes, from the dotcom boom through to dress- down Fridays, all of which have shaped the cultures of today’s workplaces.

Debi O’Donovan, editor
Follow on Twitter @DebiODonovan

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