July 1

Generation Y – What Motivates Gen Y In the Workplace (Interview)



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Motivating Generation Y in the workplace is going to take more than dangling a 5-year anniversary coffee mug in front of them, even if that mug is customized with an awe-inspiring corporate logo. Although it’s always hard to generalize about an entire generation, surveys, polls and statistics do help to paint a picture. Today’s guest Sharalyn Hartwell, the National Generation Y columnist for online newspaper The Examiner, shares her extensive research, data and insights with us on what motivates Gen Y in the workplace. We apologize for some Skype issues that make the audio sync come and go like a 1970s kung fu movie!


For our Audio Podcast: Careers Out There on iTunes


Sharalyn Hartwell: Generation Y Examiner
College Major: Communications (Broadcast & Print Journalism emphasis)
College: Utah State University in Logan, Utah
High School: West Jefferson High School in Terreton, Idaho
First Job Ever: McDonald’s
Worst Job Ever: McDonald’s

Motivating Generation Y

I thought it was interesting that some of Sharalyn’s insights on motivating Generation Y tied in with a few posts I’d recently written. The desire we have to be “working with you not for you” is something I wrote about in the context of how team sports is like the workplace. We have a role to play at work and need to play it well for career advancement – but it takes good communication in the workplace for you to see how your individual role fits into the big picture. That understanding is key to job satisfaction, performance and career advancement. Sharalyn also talks about the roles of hard work and luck in career advancement. We agree, as I recently wrote, that you make your own luck.

What About You?

What motivates you in the workplace? Is it feeling like you’re a part of the team? Knowing the path to career advancement? Do you think only hard work plays a role in career advancement? Or is luck an important factor? Please share your thoughts and experiences below in the Comments!


Careers Out There Host Marc Luber: Hey everyone – welcome to Careers Out There. I’m your host Marc Luber and we’re helping you find a career that fits you. Today we’re going to be looking at Generation Y and looking at what motivates Generation Y in the workplace.

Our guest is Sharalyn Hartwell and she’s the national Generation Y columnist for The Examiner, which is an online newspaper. It’s going to be a great episode as we look at Generation Y so stick around……Alright we’re back. Sharalyn Hartwell, welcome to Careers Out There.  

Guest Generation Y Examiner Sharalyn Hartwell: Thanks Marc. Good to be here!

Luber: So share your expertise on Generation Y with us. Let’s learn about what motivates Gen Y in the workplace.

Sharalyn Hartwell: OK. Honestly Marc there are a number of things. And I think that this is an important thing for employers to understand, for recruiters, for managers. I mean they are a bit different than previous generations. We view things a little bit differently but once you get us in there we will work hard.

There’s certain ways that you can go about it to make more Gen Y employees a little more effective. I would say the very first thing – and it’s kind of becoming a buzz term that you’re hearing among Millenninals, but they want to work with you – not for you.

And I think most of you could understand the difference just by hearing the statement, but I think what’s hard for most employers to figure out is, “well, what do they mean – I’m at this level and there’s no way that they could be working with me at this level when they’re entering here.” But it’s really become more of explaining to them and keeping them a part of the bigger picture.

So I actually have an example – it’s a really good illustrator Marc. A consulting firm in Pittsburgh called Solutions 21 and the owner of the firm is also a co-author of a great book called Gen Y Now – it’s a really good book to give you an understanding into the demographic. But he talks about an experience they had with one of their clients.

The client had a big sales opportunity and in conjunction with it and to really capitalize on it and in conjunction with this opportunity they basically needed to do a mass mailing. And so they had a group of interns: there were 8 total. They divided them into 2 groups. Each group had a different manager over them and collectively the interns had about the same amount of experience. I feel that there really wasn’t any other outside factor that would really impact their productivity level.

So the first group, the manager brought them in, explained, “OK we need to have this mail stuffed and sorted and sent out and here’s why” and they explained how it was important to this potential opportunity, the revenue that could be generated, all of that. Group 2, it was kind of an old school method. The manager came in, said, “here’s what you’re going to do – get it done, sign here and I’ll see you later” and then left them to work.

Well what happened is the first group that had been informed about what to do and what the big picture was, they worked hard all day and when the manager called in to check and offer help they said, “oh no –we’ve got it covered” and they actually stayed really late, well into the evening so they could finish it that day. Group 2 they left at 5:00 on the nose with less than half of it completed. So the next morning Group 1 went in and actually volunteered to help Group 2 finish it.

And I think that’s such a perfect example of how they want to work with you not for you. Group 2 was just working for the manager: they had no idea what they were doing, they thought it was stupid and didn’t really want to put forth the effort. Group 1: Same task, but they knew their part of the bigger picture and were willing to do the menial tasks. I’m sure no one enjoyed it – I mean no one enjoys stuffing envelopes – but they were willing to do it because they understood it was a part of the bigger picture.

Luber: You know I think that’s a really important lesson for anyone to learn whether they’re the employee or the employer. I had the same experience. I’m Generation X, but I had the exact same experience.

When I was brand new, I moved to LA from Chicago to be in the music business. I was working at a record label – and I wrote a post about this recently – where when I was the new employee and I was doing all the grunt work, it was just kind of tossed on my desk: “here”. No explanation, nothing. And I just felt, “this is stupid – why am I doing this stupid work?” And so I was kind of looking for other projects. I felt, “I’m better than this – I’m bigger than this” and I was looking for other projects, kind of letting the grunt work fall through the cracks.

It was my job to do that grunt work and I had to do it well if I wanted to move up and so eventually it came down to finally confronting the boss, the employer, and saying, “let’s figure some communication out here”. And once she started saying, “this is the role that you’re playing and this is what you’re doing and this is how this fits into the big picture and this is why it’s important”, then it all made sense. Then I felt I was a part of something, I knew what was going on…and so I totally agree and relate to what you’re talking about.

I’ll link to that post on this page on the site too because I wrote exactly about my experience with that. I think it all comes down to communication. Communication is SO important between employees and employers.

Sharalyn Hartwell: Absolutely. And I love that you bring up the fact that you’re a Gen Xer and you experienced the same thing. That’s kind of one of my mantras with my column, which is to say, “maybe we’re not all that different – it’s really a lot of it’s more a life stage than anything else, but there’s just subtle differences. Where you felt the same way but as a whole Millenninals are making a bigger stink about it. That’s really what it comes down to. More Gen Xers probably just sucked it up and dealt with it. That’s not to say that Millenninals aren’t, but as a whole they’re making more noise. So I’m glad you said that.

And the other really big point that you said is that it needs to be completed in order for career advancement. And that’s the number 2 thing that employers really need to keep in mind if they want to keep Gen Y around.

I think you and I have talked about this before in a previous episode: Millennials see what’s happened to their parents and with the recession and they see no point in company loyalty. So if they see an opportunity where they can advance their career at a different place or to get different skill sets, they’re going to take it. They don’t really feel that they really need to owe a company anything.

So there was actually more data that was collected this year and this was by a company called Achieve Global. And they found that the most motivating thing for Gen Yers at work is opportunity for career advancement. That’s the number 1 way to keep them in and motivated – is to know that there’s a logical career path where they are at.

And I can speak from standpoint and now use my personal experience: I had a similar situation with that. I had a “Real job” all through college. I worked off campus and I had a professional job in my major all through college. But it was the first job I took after that when I left that one that I had through college. And it was an entry level sales position at a really powerful media company and they had the entry level and then they had a high level. And there was really no way to make the leap between the 2. There was no stepping stone. And that was the big talk the first year that I was there. A lot of the managers said, “there’s no career path here” and I was almost too young in my career to realize that there wasn’t.

Then I kind of started to see it once they created this middle level position so that you could have the stepping stones. And I actually became the very first person in that company to go up all 3 steps: Started at the entry level and landed at the highest level and I wound up being the youngest person on our national accounts team by more than 10 years. And that’s because we had that progression and I was fortunate enough to have managers who came in who had that fortitude to see that that wasn’t an option and that they were losing good employees and I wouldn’t have stuck around much longer had I not had that opportunity for advancement.

Luber: Right. That makes sense. As a recruiter I saw that all the time – where the candidates – the young attorneys I would call on to say, “are you happy in your job? How’s it going?” Those who were really happy tended to be at law firms where it was pretty clear how you move up. You know – it wasn’t a big secret on how you’re going to make partner, or whether there’s a step between being a young associate and a partner.

Some places had different levels of partner and you knew if you’re there X years, you become this level of partner and you get a card that says “partner” so you could then develop your own clients. Other places it’s like a big mystery – and you never know if you’re going to be the one who wins the lucky lottery ticket or not – and those are the places where people were usually like, “I don’t know if all of this hard work is worth it” and they’re like “get me out of here – put me somewhere where I know I can move up” and that was very very typical. So that plays in with what you’re saying and I saw it every day.

Sharalyn Hartwell: Well I like what you said too where you’re talking about hard work and then “how does this really happen – does this really work” and that’s really luck of the draw. And that’s something else we’re seeing among Millennials versus other generations.

There was a University of California Berkeley survey that was published a while ago and they evaluated Americans as a whole. 2/3 of Americans as a whole thing that it’s more hard work than luck that gets you ahead. But when they broke it down by generations, more Millennials believe in hard work to get ahead than Boomers. It’s actually 70% of Millennials versus 53% of Boomers.

So I think that’s a really good point – they want to see those opportunities for career advancement because they’re kind of so young and brash enough that they think it really comes down to working hard and proving themselves the whole time whereas it could be other things that play into that. Sometimes there are the luck factors. But that all comes together with what they’re saying that they want to see those opportunities, they want to work with the employer so that they could learn and gather all they can from the situation.

Luber: Right. They should ask their parents. All those people who think that it’s all hard work and that luck doesn’t play a role, they should ask their parents to look at all their friends that they grew up with and who did well and who didn’t do well and find out how much of it was luck. Because luck, I believe, plays a huge part. You can’t rely on luck!

And I wrote about this on a couple posts on the site – and some of my guests have talked about it: luck has been huge in their careers. But you can’t count on it! You can’t say, “well I’m going to sit back and wait for my luck”. You know – you’ve got to work your butt off. But if you can combine the hard work and hit that luck, then you’re in a great position.

Sharalyn Hartwell: Absolutely. My personal philosophy is that I think you create your own luck. By working hard enough, I think you will eventually get opportunities that will be lucky to you to move you forward. But it completely takes you working hard enough to do it.

And everyone’s going to know the examples of those who appear to do nothing and just kind of end up having it but I firmly believe in karma. I think it will all eventually come back around. At least that helps me sleep better at night.

Luber: No, I’m with you. I believe in karma 100%. It’s very important. And everyone really should take that to heart. What you put out and how you treat others is an important thing. Even if you’re not just counting on it coming back to you, remember if you dump on others – you know, why make everyone around you miserable! That’s something bosses really need to keep in mind when they’re dealing with their employees.

Sharalyn Hartwell: Absolutely. I’ve had a lot of interaction with this and a lot of experience with this exact principle in my career as I’ve worked in sales.

You know, I’ve had colleagues that were kind of that typical, slimy sales guy and would just do anything and everything to close the sale and really _______ the clients and you know he was moderately successful but you know I always make a very conscious effort to be very honest about things and if there was ever a question I would always let a colleague take the lead rather than me. I never wanted to step on anyone’s toes. I’ve always been phenomenally successful and if not the, then one of the top performers at the organizations where I’ve worked. I really believe a lot of that is just because I did the right thing and it comes back around.

Luber: Yeah – that’s a good way to be. I just had a work experience where I was on a sales force and dealing with somebody who would purposely try to steal your thunder and steal what you’ve got going on and block you from making that contact with somebody – so there are things where you may really have to watch out for the bad vibe person in the office and sidestep those people as much as possible.

Sharalyn Hartwell: I think the bosses eventually become aware of that and I think clients, especially when you’re talking about sales type roles, clients see through that so quickly. And from my standpoint, I always got a ton of referral business. This particular gentleman did not. And that was part of the reason why I ended up having at the end of the day higher numbers than he did because I got referrals because my clients liked working with me.

And even now it’s fantastic – some of these people 3, 4, 5 years later, I’m still in contact with these clients and they’re helping me to find future career opportunities completely unrelated to that previous job that I had because I proved to them who I was as a person while we were working.

Luber: Yup. And that all ties back to make your own luck. You made that happen.

Sharalyn Hartwell: And I’m a Gen Yer who believes in hard work.

Luber: There you go! So everybody: tell us your stories. Let us know – put some feedback in the Comments section on the site. Tell us about your experiences: what you feel about hard work and luck and how those combine. What you feel is a motivating factor for you in the workplace. And what else Sharalyn? What else do we want to hear from them?

Sharalyn Hartwell: Things that have made a difference – like you said – what motivates them – and maybe what hasn’t motivated them. What makes them want to leave a position when it first appeared like a great option?

Luber: Yeah – perfect! Everyone – share your feedback. And before we go Sharalyn, tell us a little blurb about yourself so we know what you’re doing when you’re not writing for the Examiner.

Sharalyn Hartwell: Well I’m working in sales and marketing. I’m doing contract work right now. All of my background over 10 plus years has been in media related either sales or production. So I’ve done the writing thing – I’m doing that now. I’ve also done TV show hosting. And then I’ve done a lot of sales with print, online and HD video media.

Luber: Excellent. Very good background. And thank you again – thank you for sharing your expertise with us. We really appreciate it.

Sharalyn Hartwell: Thanks for having me. It’s always good to be here.

Luber: Excellent. As always you get real advice from real professionals here at Careers Out There. Real professionals like Sharalyn Hartwell. Thanks again everybody – I’m Marc Luber and look forward to seeing you all again soon.

(C) 2010 Careers Out There


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communications major

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Leave a Reply
  1. Thought provoking interview containing great points!

    We ask our Gen Y’s “what do you want to do?” One asked in a review “where do you see me in 5 years?” The answer was “where do you want to be”. Together we set steps to get there. We have started 5 entities and acquired two by staff under the age of 28. Those operations have 10 staff members of our main company, as shareholders in the satellited companies.

    All generations have value and lend expertise to the work force. To be sustainable, and to not just defend and extend as Adam Hartung preaches, allow Gen Y’s freedom to grow.

    Thank you for this piece.

    Tom Walter

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