A Challenge and an Opportunity: Understanding Generation Y

Razumevanje-generacije-Y-kao-izazov-i-prilika-tatjana mamula
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HR Conference, October 2016
Ph.D. Tatjana Mamula

By 2020, the share of Serbian Y generation among working population will be 48%, according to the estimates of the Republic Statistical Office. In addition to the Y-generation, generations of Baby Boomers as well as the X and soon Z generations are also working. The development of information technology leads to faster development of generations, and each generation represents the specifics of their period. The generation gap is becoming more noticeable in the work environment since generations differ in their values, motivation, leadership style, communication style and in other aspects. What are the characteristics of Serbian Millennials regarding their attitude toward career, the ideal job, motivation and skills which they apply on a daily basis will be presented in this paper, as a result of the research conducted on this generation representative sample in Serbia, in May 2016.



The generation gap exists since the beginning of time. However, employers are increasingly concerned about how to manage such different generation groups whose views differ more than ever before. Put yourself in a situation that, as an employer, a member of generation X has to say to employees who are members of generation Y: “The company has secured a huge long-term project. We will work overtime and one day of the weekend in the next three months.” How and what to communicate so that at the end you have a win win situation?

Put yourself in a position that as an employee and a member of generation Y, you need to tell your employer who is a representative of generation X: “I’m going on vacation for 3 weeks and I will be mainly in areas outside the range of mobile telephony and limited access to the Internet. I’m going on a journey, Bolivia, Peru and Chile, where my friend from master studies lives and works.” How and what to communicate so that at the end you have a win win situation?

A recent survey by Ernst & Young, in which opinions of American experts from each of these generation groups were collected, led to significant and unexpected results. Generation of people born between 1946 and 1964, post-war baby boom generation (baby boomers) are not lagging behind in work despite their age, what is more, they are considered dedicated and productive workers. Employees, members of generation X, who are expected to fight for the leadership positions, are considered the best team players in the business. Opinions on youth from generation Y or “Millenials” are less surprising: they are very good at technical jobs but they are also professionally cruel and somewhat work lazy. [1] Today, most company representatives from all three generations are able to work together on a daily basis and cooperate. Soon they will be joined by representatives of the upcoming generation Z (born between year 2000-2010).

Other sources state that the generation X‟s priority is independence and individualism, while generation Y‟s is co-operation and team play. How best to reconcile these differences and achieve maximum impact? To work on the solutions, we must first locate potential painful spots and bottlenecks. The most important is to familiarize oneself with members of these generations. From many sources we can discover why Millenials are demanding, ambitious, educated, they do not respect authority, they are proficient with IT, they want everything, now and immediately. The whole generation it is attributed the same broad set of features. It is important to understand the conditions in which they evolved and gained first experiences. [2]

kontekst-u-kome-su-zivele-generacija-X-i-Y tatjana mamula

Diagram 1) The context in which generations X and Y lived


21st century is the century of communications. With the arrival of modern technology,  employees have become the most important intangible value of a company (intangible asset).  The way we communicate determines how we value employees, and thus the level of  employee loyalty to the company. One of the most important aspects to be taken into account  is the current tendency of companies to rely on intensive knowledge of the employees and to  use their new ideas and proactively which leads to innovation. In the current phase of  economic life, business will be built on a model of thinking rather than the model of creating  products and services. [3]

When a member of generation Y uses his smartphone at a meeting, he is probably doing more  things simultaneously, and is not absent or rude, says Dan Schawbel, who wrote a book about  Generation Y at work. [4] His older colleagues could take offense, but in most cases he  respects and values them, and just wants to learn from them. This explains the constant need  of Millenials for feedback, says Schwab. Baby Boomers and generation X see mentoring as a  very useful whereas generation Y is the main actor for reverse mentoring. Generation Y is the  first generation that grew up on the wave of introduction and application of digital technology  and communications. Thanks to their knowledge, generation Y, whether students, employees  or children of their parents become mentors to their superiors, colleagues, parents in the adoption and application of new knowledge. The ultimate goal of reverse mentoring is to  promote relations between generations and within generations and empower everyone to  change and thereby to make changes within their own ecology. [5]

Analysis show that generational conflict usually arises from the mistakes of perception,  unrealistic expectations and assumptions. Effective communication is critical and crucial in  addressing and dealing with generational conflict. Zemke and others [6] propose the use of  aggressive communication to create a successful intergenerational workforce, as a  combination of a fresh perspective and wisdom of those with more experience. Employees  and employers have the same need to understand why people ask questions, as opposed to  believing that employees who ask questions raise issues that are disrespectful or trying to  show a person of authority in a bad light. [7] Managers and employees should identify  possible reasons why someone might question them instead of making the wrong conclusions.  By setting carefully tailored questions, the coach provokes thought and reflection on  experiences and thus brings out their potential and creativity. The most effective forms of  work which allows the use of methods of experiential learning are coaching. This kind of  work invokes the responsibility of the person who is developing and their active participation  in strengthening their capacity and skills. Using different work methods, not only to improve  the employees themselves, but to apply developed skills and contribute to the development of  the organization. [8] Employers should avoid making decisions based on assumptions. If the  motive of the employee is unclear, questioning a decision is the answer. Members of different  generations see respect in different ways. The assumption that disrespect is deliberate is  actually a dead end in communication. Therefore, the role of dialogue and questioning is  essential in preventing misunderstandings.

Organizations where employees feel valued, recognized, respected and supported can have a  higher percentage of retention. Many of the best practices that can improve customer loyalty  and retention of employees (and at different stages in the life cycle of the employee) may also  be applied in the work of the generations because members of different generations share  similar reasons for staying in the organization. Training and mentoring programs are effective  methods of working with the generations. Training based on competence, which requires the  employee to demonstrate competence in the areas necessary for effectiveness at work can also  be the reason for retention of employees. Knowing yourself is the most important trump card  that every employee should have. When they are aware of their virtues and weak spots,  employees can detect room for improvement and learning.

Successful leaders should know how to inspire employees. To enable mutual collaboration to  all, they should have an understanding of individual strengths and weaknesses of a generation  and find the point where their opinions diverge and define action steps so as to understand the  differences. “Understanding individuals‟ personality is more important than thinking what  generation they belong to. Attention should be paid to the unique personalities, to  individuals.” [9] The challenges in a multi-generational workplace are not seen as  insurmountable differences rather challenges whose goal is to harmonize generation and be  aware of the advantages of each generation can contribute to improving teamwork and  business results. Wagner (2007) states: “Everyone brings something very important to work.  If we could get all four generations and absorb them into a work culture, we would have a  much happier and more productive workers “(p.30). [10]


We are witnesses to the fact that without an understanding of who Millenials and why they  think and act in a way that is different from the older generation employers can  disadvantaged when it comes to communication, delegation of activities to teams or  individuals, training and building relationships with representatives of the new generation.

Slika-2-Milenijasi-i-edukatori-–-ucenje-u-digitalnom-dobu tatjana mamula

Diagram 2) Millenials and educators – learning in the digital age [11]

When they find themselves in the role of managers, members of generation Y are very  different from managers who belong to previous generations. They prefer informal feedback  and a more casual work environment. The very title „manager‟, as in the case of leaders, is not  so important to them. What they find important is to have more autonomy, free time or get  recognition for their work. Growing up in a world where nothing has been promised not  guaranteed, taught that their skills they must acquire themselves, but also that they themselves  seek ways to do so, They are very aware of the problems facing the world in which they live,  but also very optimistic in their wish to make changes and make a better, more loyal to  themselves, but also the team, and not to the structure of the organization because young  leaders are the ones who will lead the world in the future. [12] While experts invest a lot of  energy and time to understand how to manage the generation Y, they actually do not realize  that this generation learned to lead itself. [13]

Today, every third employee in the world belongs to that generation, and from 2020 will  constitute for more than half of the working age population. The fact that they have excellent  knowledge and use technology enables them to work much faster and more productively than  older colleagues. They also have a better approach to problems, practical solutions, and  clearly defined goals. Since the Y generation is a leader in the labor market all the more  visible are changes in the world of business and work environment.

Slika-3-Udeo-generacije-u-radno-sposobnom-stanovnistvu-u-Srbiji tatjana mamula

Diagram 3) Most important attributes when considering employment after graduation

According to survey results conducted in March 2016, where the difference in generations X  and Y was monitored with respect to the way they learn and communicate, a higher  percentage in the use of Internet and social networks can be seen by young Millenials  (respondents aged 18 to 24 years). They also acquire information through the Internet and online newspapers than generation X. Since Millenials are a generation open to new  technologies, it offers space for the implementation of various forms of interactive materials  using digital channels. The results show that Millenials mostly use chat, instant messaging  and e-mail communications. Internet provides them with greater freedom of expression and  exchange of ideas. Therefore, for them, it is not unknown how to use these communication  channels, both in teaching and in work process, because it offers interactive lectures and  authentic experience in the process of learning and work. [15]


An especially important topic in the story of Millenials and how they differ from American to  Japanese, and Japanese from Serbian Millenials. MASMI team in May, 2016 conducted  research on a representative sample of 1,000 local Millenials (aged 18 to 36), in order to get  insights on different types Millenials and what are the similarities and differences. [16]  Looking at the demographics, most of our Millenials are in a middle-lower material status,  they just have enough to meet basic needs. Half of them live with their parents, which is  understandable given the fact that they are between 18 and 36 years of age and taking into  account the practice in our environment that they “fly away from the nest” later than is the  case in the West. Regarding education, about a third of them graduates from high school and  do not continue their education, one third have a university degree, and every fourth is a  student. Their activity on social media is shown in Diagram 4.

Slika-4-Najvazniji-atributi-prilikom-razmatranja-zaposlenja-nakon-diplomiranja tatjana mamula

Diagram 4) Usage of social networks by Serbian Millenials

What motivates me (would motivate me) and discourages (would discourage me) in the  workplace?

Although it is cited that important motivators are good relationships and the possibility of  personal development and training, less than a third of Serbian Millenials would leave the  company in which they currently work due to poor interpersonal relationships or lack of  possibility for personal development and training. If we compare the motivators for work in a  company with demotivating conditions it can lead to the abandonment of the workplace – we  can conclude that good human relations and the possibility of personal development and  training more impact on satisfaction than dissatisfaction of employees. Thus, two of the three  Serbian Millenials would leave the company in which they currently work for better job  opportunities, and almost as many of them due to poor financial conditions, which indicates  that the inability of good earnings is the most important reason for the fluctuations.

What is valued among employers today?

Serbian Millenials believe that some of the most sought-after skills in employees are  commitment to the job (69%), work efficiency (52%), literacy (46%), problem solving skills  (44%) and teamwork (40%). Dedication and responsibility, as well as emotional and social  intelligence are the skills that women see more than men as the most wanted in the 21st  century, while men think its professional integrity. More than half believe that companies  most value employees who are involved and highly productive workers, indicating a  perception of demanding performance parameters and professional investment by employers  to their employees. In addition, four out of ten Serbian Millenials recognize that the skills  needed for teamwork is a requirement of employers. As an ideal job they prefer to work in a  large company (42%) are indifferent to whether they work in local or foreign company (34%),  and between the public and private prefer to select state-owned company (48%). Furthermore, 56% see as an ideal job setting up their own companies, fixed working hours (49%) and work in a company for a long time (65%). Of course, not all Millenials are equal in their habits, thinking and behavior in the workplace. Through innovative statistical analysis are shown in Diagram 5

Slika-6-Zastupljenost-segmenata-u-populaciji-srpskih-Milenijasa tatjana mamula

Diagram 5) The representation of segments in the Serbian Millenials pop


Millenials wish for complete and successful careers. The motivators for the Millenials which  have an influence on their work are: a high salary, the possibility of training and  improvement, interpersonal relationships, job security, a good balance of work and private  life. If some of the motivators are not met, people will look for a better business opportunity.  As necessary skills for the effective performance at work are: dedication, computer literacy,  teamwork, loyalty to the employer, academic knowledge of the profession. Most respondents  considered that they possess all the skills necessary for job efficiently. Part of the young  people, faced with increasing competition in the labor market, realize that personal  development is extremely important, they turn to informal forms of training, visiting various  seminars and trainings when they get an opportunity, use the programs for professional  training and volunteering, even when there is no financial gain. They realize that this, other  forms of profit are actually much more important, because it sets them apart from the rest of  the labor market and prepares them for the uncertain future. As generation Y are increasingly  given managerial positions, not only will the “team values” come to light, but will also impact  on the community priorities for organizations to become visible. The role of the leader Y  generation in comparison to other generations in the workplace is very important, how to  share and transfer their knowledge and skills, and the constant feedback, the feedback  necessary for complex projects and situations. Keeping everything in mind, we can say that this is a generation that shares most of the values of previous generations, but unlike them, are prepared to express their needs and wishes stronger and louder.


[1] http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/EY-global-generations-a-global-study-on-work-life-challenges-across-generations/$FILE/EY-global-generations-a-global-study-on-work-life-challenges-across-generations.pdf

[2] www.act2b.rs

[3] Mamula T. (2014) Uloga i doprinos posvećenosti zaposlenih u upravljanju odnosima stejkholdera, HR Konferencija: Upravljanje kvalitetom ljudskih resursa savremeni trendovi, Beograd, 23. oktobar 2014.  

[4] http://danschawbel.com/research/

[5] Mamula T., Radojević I., Sljepčević M., (2016) Innovative approaches in university and lifelong style of learning designed for new generations, Innovation Competitiveness and Sustanaible Development Conference, ICSD May 2016, Beograd

[6] Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace by Ron Zemke, Claire Raines and Bob Filipczak (280 pages. New York: AMACOM, 2000)

[7] Deal, J. J. (2007). Retiring the generation gap: How employees young and old can find common ground, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN: 0787985252

[8] Mamula, T., Kužet N. (2015): The role and contribution of coaching style of the 21st century leader, HR Conference oktobar 2015,  Beograd

[9]  https://books.google.rs/books?id=ZgsAAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA39&lpg=PA39&dq=Cummuta+generations&source=bl&ots=ofVHK8g20l&sig=O_EKmD5hQs8BDjmmNHY37EdxiCg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjFm4ztjM7PAhVBuRQKHZfEB4EQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=Cummuta%20generations&f=false

[10] Deyoe R.H., Fox T.L.: Identifying strategies to minimize workplace conflict due to generational differences, Journal of Behavioral Studies in Business, 2012

Wagner, K. (2007). Filling the gap. Journal of Property Management, 72(5), 29-35.

[11] Mamula T, Ćoso D. (2015). Millennials’ way of e-learning and communication in the digital era, The Sixth international Conference on e-Learning (eLearning-2015), 22-23 September 2015, Belgrade, Serbia http://econference.metropolitan.ac.rs/files/pdf/2015/06-Tatjana-Mamula-Dragomir-Coso-%D0%9Cillennials-way-of-e-learning-and-communication-in-the-digital-era.pdf

[12] http://www.slideshare.net/TanjaMamula/koja-je-vaa-strategija-za-obraanje-generaciji-potroaa-i-lidera-koja-dolazi-57450056

[13] http://www.forbes.com/sites/lbsbusinessstrategyreview/2014/05/14/generation-y-loyalty-and-leadership/

[14] Ng, E.S.W., Schweitzer, L., Lyons, S.T. (2010). New Generation, Great Expectations: A Field Study of the Millennial Generation. Journal of Business Psychology, 25, 281–292.

[15] http://www.masmi.rs/od-skole-uspeha-milenijalci-generacija-x/



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