Gen Y Has Spoken: Size Doesn’t Matter

The kids are all right with startups

There are many touted benefits to working for a large, established company – stability, a retirement plan and a healthy pension. But often these larger companies don’t provide the accelerated learning, career growth, and open environments younger employees are drawn to. And many are hampered by entrenched inefficiencies that frustrate young professionals.

Mashable recently covered a study by PayScale and Millennial Branding indicating that start-up companies are more attractive to young job seekers than large corporations. According to the study, Gen Y (those aged 18-29) prefers smaller firms that “allow for more flexibility, an opportunity to embrace their entrepreneurial ambitions, and the opportunity to use social networks at work without strict corporate guidelines.”

It’s clear that these preferences are driving their career choices – 47% of Gen Y workers are at companies that have fewer than 100 employees, followed by 30% who work at companies that have between 100 and no more than 1,500 employees. Just 23% work in large companies with more than 1,500 employees.

This may be surprising to those who’ve heard job stability heralded for generations. However, for those of us who’ve worked in a startup, this data is not news since the opportunities for innovation and creativity are what bring many young recruits through the doors. While an office full of new graduates could seem unbalanced, companies that recruit Gen Y workers benefit from a number of unique qualities that more seasoned individuals can’t always offer.

From companies like Facebook and Google, to OneScreen – the small-but-growing company I founded – the younger generation is reshaping and building entire industries – and having a lot of success doing it. And Gen Y certainly isn’t limited to new markets, such as social networking and mobile; fresh thinkers are changing even the oldest industries, such as banking and media.   

The Benefits to Hiring Gen Y

Dan Schawbel, founder of Gen Y research and management consulting firm Millennial Branding, recently described Gen Y as “an entrepreneurial group, highly versed in social media” who “prefers freedom and flexibility over big corporate policies.” Furthermore, because the latest technologies and devices have become engrained with their daily activities, younger employees are often extremely savvy with the technology that can drive change needed at large, often clunky, corporations.

All of these are qualities that companies should seek out in employees and incorporate into their business models if they want to promote innovation and growth. This is especially the case for those companies whose focus is digital (e.g., online advertising, digital video, mobile, social networking), or those that offer products and services that can be consumed by the new generation.

It’s true that younger employees may not have a significant amount of work experience, but the advantages they bring can diversify your employee base and often outweigh the training you’ll need to do. Young workers come free of corporate baggage and rigid ways of doing things. With a little guidance, they can easily be integrated into your company’s culture, and their inherent flexibility, allows them to adapt with minimal difficulty as you evolve.

Furthermore, their entrepreneurial spirit contributes to Gen Y workers being motivated and not afraid to take risks. While uninformed risk taking should be discouraged, a fresh, outside-of-the-box idea is something that can prove valuable to an executive who has been embedded in his or her company’s culture for many years.

Younger employees can also serve as a boost to overall company morale. According to a MetLife survey featured LifeHealthPro, Gen Y workers at smaller companies are more appreciative of benefits, and this directly contributes to a company’s retention rate. An estimated 71% of young employees who are satisfied with their benefits also reported feeling very satisfied with their jobs, which makes for loyal employees and less turnover.

Advice for Large Employers – Don’t Miss Out

Being a large or established employer doesn’t mean you’ll be automatically overlooked. Aside from acquisitions that bring in smart and driven talent, there are several startup mindsets you can adopt to entice young employees through your doors and cash in on their unique skill sets.

1. Create a startup culture. Startups are naturally the way they are because they are smaller and the employees build a culture that is beyond “work.” Startups give more responsibilities and rewards to their employees, and everyone shares in the successes and failures.

It isn’t easy to force these types of attributes onto large corporations, but there are certain elements of a startup that any company can adopt. Employees don’t want to perform the same tasks or play the same role for the rest of their corporate lives. Create an environment where every day is a new experience, and invite and reward employees for contributing their ideas or taking initiative.  Most important, lose the politics and the egos, and create a culture where everyone from the top to the bottom can enjoy success together.

2. Challenge your employees. Whether it is to present ideas that are considered outside of the box or to take on roles they didn’t even realize they could do successfully, it is imperative to keep work exciting. A startup environment is one where employees are constantly taking on new challenges and retooling processes that sometimes are only weeks old.

Offer a work environment that fosters risk-taking and critical thinking, and you’ll be able to attract individuals who will continually challenge you to improve. Not only does this add value to a business, with improved efficiencies, new features, capabilities, and potentially new revenue sources, it also pushes everyone in the company, young or not, to think differently. 

3. Stay in sync with change. Hiring recent graduates is not a new concept. Think back to when you were on campus and companies, such as Accenture, IBM, and KPMG touted wonderful career opportunities. The challenge is that these organizations have not changed with the times (some still have Blackberrys).

Keep your business model, technology, work environment, and employee benefits constantly evolving to stay competitive. It’s easy for companies to become comfortable with the benefits they’ve already put in place, but other employers will farm young recruits as they continue to stack on more attractive perks.

No company is too big, too small, or too established to offer enticing benefits packages. Take Netflix, for example – a billion dollar company that offers its employees unlimited vacation days. Even at OneScreen, we offer an array of perks common to most startups in Silicon Valley, including a fully stocked kitchen and a game room, paid happy-hours and other social events, flexible time off and an incentive plan for all employees.

Evolving perks encourage hard work and prevent size and scale from affecting the culture. Keep yourself up to date and continually compare your employee benefits with other startups and leading employers in your area. Even companies that have been around for 50 years will benefit from an engaged, creative employee base if they stay fluid.

It’s true that having young employees comes with its own set of challenges, but not for the reasons you’re probably thinking. In my experience, Gen Y workers are driven, hard-working, and are ready to execute when given the opportunity. With top-down and peer-to-peer collaboration, any young employee can reflect and appreciate the values that make a start-up company successful.

And frankly, “training” is a concept of the past, at least at OneScreen, because every day is a learning exercise for everyone. Eventually, you’ll find yourself teaching less about a specific task or function and more about frameworks, values and mindsets that can scale as you grow. You have to be willing to invest in your people and put forth a consistent vision for moving forward. Once you do that, your team, company and, most important, your clients and partners, will reap in the rewards.