If you don’t know what Gen Y wants … ask!


I’ve worked in and around the Accounting profession for more years than I care to remember.  With my headhunting hat on I usually work at the Partner and Director level, across both big and small accounting firms.  Amongst other topics of conversation, the subject of “those darn Gen Y staff” comes up on a regular basis.  To remove any confusion – Gen Y refers (at least in my mind) to those people born between 1980 to 2000.

I’m sure you’ve heard the usual traits attached to Gen Y: self-absorbed, sense of entitlement, lack of loyalty, poor worth ethic and more.  You get the idea.

The other day, in preparation for this post, I spoke with two Gen Y professionals, both employed in accounting firms.  Both were women (I was hoping to speak to a bloke , but was up against a deadline!).  Let’s call these women Hannah & Emma – not their real names so as to protect the innocent.  Hannah works for a Big 4 firm employing a few thousand staff in Australia; Emma works in a suburban firm with ten staff.

I asked both Hannah & Emma two questions:

  1. What is the most important thing(s) in your work life?
  2. What is the smallest change that your employer can make that would have the biggest impact on you?

Space constraints prevent me from sharing everything I learned in my conversations with Hannah & Emma so here is a quick summary of their views.

Most important things:

  • Learning from others in the workplace (More is caught than what is taught).
  • Investment in their development (They welcome technical/work course but would appreciate input into their personal development.  This will more often than not have a positive impact on their work anyway e.g. like learning a language).
  • Having the respect of their bosses, peers, staff & clients (Recognition is important but they want to earn the praise, not just be given it).

Small change with the biggest impact:

  • Interestingly both Hannah & Emma’s responses here centered on food.
  • Hannah would love her firm to provide a cafeteria that provided meals at a heavily subsidised rate or at zero cost. This would make her working life so much easier and would more likely than not result in her being more productive at work.
  • Emma likes the idea of a monthly lunch where the firm got together over a meal and shared ideas, war stories and had the opportunity to get to know each other better.

Hmmm … interestingly the above comments don’t really line up with the Gen Y stereotype do they? Believe me when I say this, I’ve met scores of Baby Boomers and Gen Xer’s who are more self-absorbed, have a deeper sense of entitlement, lack loyalty and have a poor worth ethic.  Funnily enough, the older ones have been doing it a whole lot longer than the Gen Yer’s so these “bad traits” are much more ingrained.

The bottom line here is simply this: ignore the generational labels and focus on the person.  If you want the best from them ask them how to do it.

The answer might just surprise you!


James Evangelidis | Principal Consultant – Envoy Professional Search

  • Ripper post, James! Job ads are my bag, so I really respect you for taking the time to ask questions like this.

    As growing firms fight over a dwindling talent pool, the old ways won’t work. But your enlightened approach is sure to keep you in the winner’s circle. Best regards, P. :)

    PS. This may interest: https://www.myob.com/au/blog/how-to-write-perfect-job-ads-part-2-audience/

    • Many thanks for the comment Paul. Glad the post struck a chord. I’ll certainly look up the link you gave on how to write perfect jobs ads. All my best, James.

  • Toni Bannerman

    Great post James, I am a ‘Gen Yer’ and really appreciate the last note of your post about ignoring the generational labels and focusing on the person.
    Some people out there give us Gen Yer’s labels about being lazy etc, I am someone who has worked extremely hard throughout my life and appreciate not being labelled just because of my age.
    Good to see someone giving us a go and listening to our thoughts as well. Great post, Regards Toni

    • Toni – great to hear from a “Gen Yer” Thank you for taking the time to comment and sharing your view. Interestingly enough I haven’t heard anything from the Baby Boomers or the older Gex X yet :) keep smashing those stereotypes Toni! All my best, James

      • I’m a Gen X. I hate stereotypes – and they don’t come much bigger than generations! Each person should be judged on their merit. :)

  • Yasmin

    Definitely agree with James’ conclusion to focus on the person rather than any generational labels – stereotypes are rarely useful when dealing with individuals. Thanks for the insights James.

  • Certainly an interesting topic. I’m right on the border of Gen X & Y, and most of the staff I’ve had to manage have been Gen Y. Many have been highly driven and hardworking. I think your point about Gen Y employees wanting to have earned the respect is true. It’s also true in reverse. They expect their seniors to earn respect of their employees. They will not have a bar of the ‘respect based on position’ approach.

    • Thanks for sharing Jonathan. You raise an excellent point about managers needing to earn the respect of their teams. Bosses out there – don’t forget …. Most of the time you are only as good as what your team thinks of you! All my best JR, James.

  • Robert Campbell

    Nice to see someone sticking up for us James :-)

    I’m a Gen Y and I would have to agree with Hannah & Emma on what is important to them. I want a job that stimulates and challenges me; an evironment that encourages me to learn and develop; a place to learn from the best and to give my best.

    A great point you make at the end James, it is universally true. It is the experiences and personality of a person that makes them who they are; not the generaton they were born in.

  • Thanks Robert – good to hear from another Gen Yer. I like your emphasis on wanting a job that challenges you. Nice one. Keep well, James.