Don’t pander to Gen Y or promote too quickly, says PwC partner

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Generation Y or “millennial” finance professionals, those who entered the workforce after 2000, are clamouring to climb the career ladder. But employers risk promoting them into senior positions too quickly, said Alywin Teh, a consulting leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Singapore.

Teh is a partner in charge of financial services consulting and also leads a team of consultants across several sectors, including technology, human resources and risk. He’s been at PwC since graduating, in the Gen X cohort, from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore in 1994.

He talks to eFinancialCareers about how to manage demanding millennials without ignoring the rest of the workforce.

Are Gen Y finance professionals really that different to past generations who have entered the workforce?

In the latest PwC Millennials at Work survey, we found that Gen Y professionals do generally have a different attitude towards work: they want to be engaged but enjoy flexibility at work and have time to have fun. They are also less hesitant to leave a job if they are not enjoying it. However, 54% of those surveyed did not expect to have more than two to five jobs throughout their career: the challenge is keeping them motivated and constantly challenged.

Can transferring them to overseas offices help motivate them?

I think they are less hesitant towards global opportunities than the previous generation of professionals is, so companies that offer international exposure have an advantage in attracting them. At PwC, for example, our global mobility programme, which allows employees to be seconded to overseas offices, helps us retain younger employees and aids their personal and professional development.

Are Gen Y professionals being promoted too quickly?

One of the most-heard comments about Gen Y is that they expect rapid promotion; and in our survey career-progression opportunities is the top factor influencing the attractiveness of an employer. But companies also risk promoting them too quickly, without the necessary exposure and training required. This can lead to cross-generational management issues – especially if Gen Y are in charge of more experienced colleagues – as these Gen Y professionals may still lack the maturity required to manage people.

So how should employers decide who to promote?

It’s hard for organisations to create enough positions for all Gen Y employees to progress at the pace they desire. So PwC, for example, has helped organisations build systems to ensure they maintain a rigorous performance management system to promote those who are deserving, while ensuring they have the right coaching and support systems in place to prepare them for the position.

Do line managers need to manage Gen Y differently from other employees?

Yes. Gen Y employees place great importance on learning, development, feedback and coaching – more so than the generations before them. But many older managers may not be equipped with the proper coaching and mentoring skills to meet their expectations. Gen Y also have a high preference for independence and generally don’t operate well if they are micro-managed. Managers need to find a balance between guiding them and giving them the necessary space to learn and grow.

How can they do this?

Managers need to be creative. For example, at PwC Singapore, to allow our managers to address generational differences and possible tensions, we did a Gen Y education event during a recent staff day. And in our Millennials survey, 78% of respondents felt that having access to their preferred technology made them more effective at work. Employers can consider adapting their organisational policies to allow Gen Y employees more flexibility in their choice of office equipment.

But do employers risk pandering too much to Gen Y?

The risk is that organisations may become so fixated on Gen Y that they ignore the needs of their other employees. A fine balance needs to be reached between the two. Integration into company culture is important to allow the Gen Y employees to fit into the company and adapt to its working culture.

Are there any important differences between Gen Y professionals in Asia and their counterparts in the West?

Cultural lines are blurring as the world becomes more globalised, and the differences between Gen Y in the West and in Asia are narrowing. Especially here in Singapore, where Gen Y get more exposure to their peers from different nationalities and cultures, we are seeing less distinction between Gen Y from the West and Asia.

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