Mike Doman
Technology Journalist

Mike Doman is a technology, lifestyle, industrial and education writer

Mike Doman
Technology Journalist

Mike Doman is a technology, lifestyle, industrial and education writer

Generation Y is a polarising generation. But as they approach the majority share of the workforce, how can business take advantage?

Attitudes to Gen Y vary greatly across workforces and generations. For some, they’re precocious and entrepreneurial. For others, they’re entitled and disloyal. But a recent Upwork study has shone a light on the attitudes of both Gen Ys and recruiters alike, showing there are ways businesses can take advantage of their attitudes to facilitate innovation and meet skills shortages.

Australian country manager of Upwork, Kyri Theos, says much of the differences in attitudes come from the role models and technology each generation has been exposed to.

“On the one hand, you have a generation that is very tech-savvy and has grown up with entrepreneurial values and stories of startup success. And on the other, you have businesses that are still working within a traditional nine to five structure that Gen Ys feel will stifle their creativity.”

Given that Gen Y is predicted to eclipse the working age population in 15 years, how can businesses take advantage?

Group of young friends

Be flexible

The study showed that almost 40 per cent of Gen Ys saw flexible working hours as a priority when choosing a workplace – the second highest among a list that included earnings potential, company culture and exciting work.

“I find that working hard, proper time management and a positive attitude helps me achieve that ‘liveable [lifestyle]’ goal, which then in turn gives me the flexibility to see family and friends when I want,” says Kirk Stanton, Gen Y and serial entrepreneur.

For businesses, technology can provide significant benefits in facilitating this flexibility –encouraging mobility through tablets and smartphones can offer staff the opportunity to work from home, out on the road or even from the local café and empower them to determine where they are most productive.

Look at freelancers

The prevalence of the freelance workforce has risen in previous years, driven in part by the rise of services like Upwork, OzLance and 99Designs.

“I think freelancing is huge for Gen Y,” says Kirk.

“I became a freelancer because I wanted the freedom to pick my own clients and which projects I took on board. In addition, a great benefit to working for myself is that I can manage my own time and can move my calendar around freely.”

And while corporate loyalty may be reducing (56 per cent of Gen Ys claim corporate loyalty is an outdated concept), there are opportunities for businesses to reduce costs by using a freelance workforce that only works when required. 

Invest in infrastructure

A quarter of recruiters surveyed believed that improved IT systems and processes would help businesses make more efficient use of freelancers, showing the importance of having infrastructure that encourages both flexible working and freelancers.

For small businesses that want reliable and secure IT that can be accessed on the go, Telstra Cloud Services can offer security and applications that make working with staff and freelancers collaboratively easier and more efficient. 

Encourage entrepreneurial thinking

Upwork’s research further found that 39 per cent of Gen Ys are currently at management level, half see themselves in management in 10 years, while more than 50 per cent believed they have a more entrepreneurial attitude than previous generations.

“Gen Y is the first generation of native tech users to enter the workforce,” says Kyri.

“While they might lack business acumen and have a different attitude to work, they're fast learners and creative thinkers that can drive innovation in an established business.”

For business owners, encouraging innovation in staff without being fearful of staff turnover can see many benefits. New ways of thinking can often be met with resistance, but businesses that have an open mind to change can be ahead of the curve while competitors are making significant changes that are forced upon them through necessity.

Understand weaknesses

It’s important to remember that there are weaknesses in any generation (and indeed in any staff member) – recruiters still believe Gen X has better leadership qualities (at 84 per cent), and 81 per cent of recruiters say Gen Ys are more likely to have egotistic tendencies.

When it comes to attitude, challenges can often be overcome with the right professional development and approaching management in a more fluid way that encourages individual contribution.

There’s no doubt that the shift towards Gen Y will be monumental for business, as technology continues to make process more efficient, but also fundamentally shift the opportunities for people to work how they want to from wherever they’re most productive.

Change is the only constant in business. Those that adapt reap the benefits, and those that don’t can feel the effects of challenges. 

Make the management of your business and freelancers a little more flexible.

See our top six small business apps for improving efficiency here.

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