// Club Network's Manual for Success: How to employ and retain Generation Y

by James Adonis

Generation Y / n. The generation born in the 1980s and 1990s and comprising the most influential generational group since the Baby Boomers.

It’s official; Generation Y employees are a pain in the bum. My own 2007 survey of hundreds of business managers found that 41 per cent of them feel that Gen Y is the most difficult group of employees to manage in the workplace, outpolling the Baby Boomers by almost 300 per cent.

However, this is just a perception. The reality is that Gen Y is the least understood generation, which is a shame, because it has a huge amount of value to add. If management teams were educated on what it takes to get the best out of Gen Y, they’d be amazed at how easy it is and how quickly the results will follow.

This Manual for Success focuses on the areas that are most important for Gen Y and includes tips, processes and must-do’s to ensure your Gen Ys are more engaged than ever before. Let’s begin with strategies that will attract them.

Recruiting Gen Y

Staff retention has long been a very challenging issue in the fitness industry, but before we worry about retaining staff we need to figure out the best way of recruiting them. Ask yourself the following questions:

Where are you looking?

According to Robert Half Recruitment, 32 per cent of Australian managers say they use the internet to recruit Gen Y employees. We need to get more creative if we’re going to have a good chance of attracting this hard-to-find group of employees. Go where they hang out. In the US, McDonald’s took to advertising jobs on the backs of their burger wrappers! Perhaps burgers addicts aren’t quite the group that the fitness industry should be targeting, but the concept still applies.

How much are you paying?

This is not just about money. Money is important, but you will strengthen your chances of hiring a talented Gen Y’er by offering a career rather than just a job. Flexibility, opportunities, management and type of colleague are nonmonetary incentives for any group, but more than ever before such ‘lifestyle’ factors are attractors for a Gen Y candidate.

What language are you using?

The words, tone and graphics you use in a job ad for a Gen Y candidate must be very different than those you would use for previous generations. In a market where candidates are being swamped with ads for job vacancies, your ad needs to focus not on what’s in it for you, the employer, but what’s in it for the Gen Y candidate. And remember that it’s a candidate-short market, which means that your Gen Y candidates are interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing them. Candidates often get offered more than one job, so why should they choose you? It may be your natural instinct to feel somewhat peeved by this apparent role-reversal, but it’s a necessity if you are to move your business forward with the help of the new generation.

The end of hierarchy

Gen Ys won’t respect a manager just because that person is a manager, and they won’t respect an older person just because that person is older. Gen Ys respect the person they report to when that person respects them first.

A common myth about Gen Ys is that they prefer to work with managers who are of a similar age. This is not true. A Gen Y employee doesn’t care about the age, gender, sexuality or religion of their manager. All they are looking for is a manager who regards the goals of the Gen Y employee as being as important as the goals of the business. So if your fitness facility is mired in bureaucracy and authoritarianism, get rid of it – before your Gen Y employees get rid of you.


Another myth is that Gen Ys are motivated mostly by money. It’s true in the sense that money attracts a Gen Y candidate to an organisation, but it doesn’t keep them there. Gen Ys want to be paid fairly for the work they do in comparison to what others get paid within the organisation, as well as within the industry.

Extrinsic motivators, such as competitions, pay reviews, bonuses and incentives are short term motivators, so to maintain the effectiveness of your Gen Y employees for the long term, you need to be continuously offering unique strategies to keep them motivated. The danger with extrinsic motivators, however, is that after a few months employees start to take them for granted and they become an expectation rather than a benefit. Intrinsic motivators, on the other hand, such as achievement, responsibility, job satisfaction, purpose and passion, have a far greater and longer-lasting impact. They have a much higher chance of succeeding and are far less expensive for you.


Gen Ys crave recognition. They need to be told when they are doing a great job. It’s a form of intrinsic motivation which satisfies them more than monetary incentives. But recognition isn’t delivered very well by many managers. Follow these guidelines to make the way you recognise your Gen Ys totally effective:

Be immediate

Offer recognition as soon as you see the good deed done. Delaying the recognition dilutes its significance and it lessens the chances of the positive behaviour being repeated.

Be detailed

Rather than just saying, ‘well done’ or ‘good job’, recognition should be specific. For example; ‘your personal training client lost five kilos this month and the e-mail I received from her says that it’s all because of the circuit sessions that you’ve added to her program’. Feedback is more meaningful to your Gen Y’er when they know exactly why they’ve exceeded expectations.

Be optimistic

Some managers have a tendency to lump recognition in with negative feedback. For example, we might say ‘well done on picking up three new training clients in the past two weeks, it’s good to see you filling your schedule, but you’re leaving the gym floor in a mess at the end of each session’. The best recognition is that which is not mixed up with any negativity. When necessary, of course, criticisms can still be voiced, but at a different time to praise.

Be proactive

A default action of most managers is looking out for employees doing something wrong so that they can help them to improve. On the flipside of this is proactive recognition, which twists it around so that we actively try to catch our Gen Ys doing something right – and then reward them for it.

Work/life balance

A study by Mercer revealed that 82 per cent of Generation Y employees are motivated by flexible working arrangements compared to between only 58 per cent and 69 per cent of Generation Xs and Baby Boomers. This is fascinating because the Boomers are on the verge of retiring and the Xs are having kids – yet it’s the Ys that are demanding the most flexibility!

Consider being more accommodating with your Gen Ys by introducing options such as self-rostering, job sharing, work from home options, and general flexibility with working hours.


Managers that are highly competent communicators always excel at engaging Gen Ys. Here are some tips to keep in mind when communicating with this generation:

Be available

If your office door is closed more often than it is open, then you will be perceived by Gen Ys as being ‘always unavailable’.

If you’re really difficult to get hold of, then again, you’re always unavailable. Perception is important, so whenever you are available, make it obvious and make contact with your Gen Ys, even if this just takes the form of a 30-second flying visit to say hi and ask how things are going.

Hold meetings

Hold frequent meetings, either one-on-one or in a group scenario. Gen Ys love interacting with their colleagues and managers and, when conducted properly, meetings offer a great opportunity to share ideas.

Provide information

Be open, transparent, and proactively provide your Gen Ys with information. Information that you may feel isn’t of high importance, may seem really useful to them. Sometimes, just the feeling that their manager has confided in them about a certain work situation is enough to make a Gen Y feel valued and empowered.

Obtain feedback

Gen Ys have strong opinions and they need to be heard. Failing to ask them for their views on workplace and business issues is a surefire way of disengaging them. Not a single coaching session should pass without you asking your Gen Ys for their feedback on you as a manager. Listen more than you talk. Ask more than you tell.

The ‘Immediate’ Generation

Gen Ys have got used to everything being available ‘right now’. For example, eBay means we can buy whatever we like whenever we like. Facebook and MySpace enable us to become friends with people anywhere in the world whenever we like. SMS and Instant Messenger make it possible to connect with mates whenever we like. This same sense of immediacy gets transferred into the workplace. They want things now.

A third of Gen Ys are expected to start their own businesses at some stage during their careers, and 70 per cent of current high school students say that they would like to start their own businesses upon leaving school.

So if you already find it difficult to find and retain young employees, it’s only going to get harder in the future as more and more of them quit working as employees to try their hand at becoming entrepreneurs. This is why we must make our businesses seem entrepreneurial. So what characterises entrepreneurial businesses? Immediacy. Immediacy of feedback; immediacy of available management; immediacy of training on demand; immediacy of making decisions without having to seek approval; immediacy of starting projects without having to write a detailed business plan. It’s all about immediacy.

The ‘Why’ Generation

Generation Y employees are also known as Generation Why. They need to totally understand why they’re expected to do something before they embrace it.

One of the most common words spoken by young children is ‘why’ – especially when they’re about three years old. Often we can answer their questions directly, but sometimes we get stuck for a response, and reply ‘just because’. The same thing happens in the workplace. We ‘just because’ our employees, usually without even realising it. Here’s how:


If you can’t justify why you’re issuing an instruction or if your management style is more authoritative than consultative, then you’re ‘just becausing’ your Gen Ys.

Working hours

As discussed above, Gen Ys demand flexibility more than any other generation. If you’ve got strict working hours for no good reason, then you’re ‘just becausing’.


If processes are unnecessarily prescriptive and end up leaving your employees with no room to think for themselves, then you’re ‘just becausing’.

Dress code

Gen Ys express themselves through the clothes they wear. If you have any staff whose roles are not client-facing, and your dress code for them is non-negotiable, then you’re ‘just becausing’.


If you give feedback more than you receive it, or if you don’t act quickly on the feedback you collect and are doing it out of a feeling of obligation, then you’re ‘just becausing’.


Work that’s boring needs to be spiced up. If you are not offering this highly-educated generation challenges and opportunities, then you’re ‘just becausing’. ‘Just becausing’ is the fastest way to disengage a Gen Y employee. Eventually they will end up ‘just becausing’ you.


The most social generation of all, Generation Y employees place a high level of importance on the strength of their relationships with managers and peers. Evidence of this is the McCrindle Research report which found that 42 per cent of Gen Y employees say their relationship with peers is one of the top three reasons for getting or keeping their job. The solution to getting Gen Ys to build relationships with each other comes down to one word: interaction.

The more opportunities you can create for your Gen Ys to interact with people that they like and get along with, the greater your chances of building a cohesive team. But let’s face it; Gen Ys are so social that they’ll find ways to interact with their colleagues irrespective of what any manager does to control it.

What’s not so easy is the building of close relationships between managers and their Gen Y employees. Creating great relationships with people who are like-minded, share similar interests or are from the same demographic is not a huge challenge. But what if you have a working relationship with someone who is the complete opposite of you? I created the following process to help managers build a strong relationship with any type of employee, especially a Gen Y.

It’s called the BASE Relationships Model and it states that there are three Behavioural Actions which managers must undertake every day, and three elements of a Social Environment which must also be in place. Performing the actions without having the correct environment is useless. It would be like answering a telephone call at a rock concert. The action is correct because the phone is ringing, but the environment is wrong because you won’t hear a thing.

The three Behavioural Actions are ask, listen, and help:


Every day, ask your employees just a few non-work related questions. The more extroverted your Gen Y employee, the more questions you can ask and the more personal they can be. The whole idea here is to get to know them better.


Hear what they’re saying and show that you’ve listened. This might include taking down notes, referring to a previous conversation at a later date, and also listening to what’s not being said. Often when someone is speaking to us, we’re trying to think of what to say next. The notion of listening is that we’re trying to understand what’s going on in their minds.


Find some way, any way, to help your Gen Ys. Whether it’s work-related or not, helping people builds trust – and trust forms the foundation of every good relationship.

If, for example, you became aware of a new employee’s difficulty finding affordable parking near to your facility, you may actively search for cheap or free parking in the area and provide a map showing these places.

The three elements of the Social Environment which must also be in place are: respect, personal, and informal. Respect Primarily, this is about respect for age. Gen Ys hate being overlooked because of their youth and they dislike being perceived as knowing less because they’re young. This may have been the case in previous generations, but it is more pronounced in Gen Ys than ever before.


Getting personal with Gen Ys involves getting to know about their lives outside of work. This includes knowing their partners’ names, their favourite hang-outs, their preferred music, their history, their ambitions, and so forth. If, on a Monday, you’re not sure what your Gen Ys did at the weekend, then you’re not getting personal enough. If your Gen Y employee is in a bad mood and you’re not sure why, then again, you’re not getting personal enough. Being quieter than usual is one thing, but if someone openly brings a bad mood to work, questioning it ceases to be off-limits and you can feel entitled to ask them what is wrong.


This means creating a culture that is relaxed and easygoing. Gen Ys can certainly thrive under pressure, but the more approachable, cool, and calm you are as a manager, the more likely you are to retain them.

Training and development

McCrindle Research surveys show that 90 per cent of Gen Ys think that regular training is an incentive for them to stay longer with an organisation – and yet according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average employee receives only 16.5 hours of paid employer training each year.

The type of training that works best for Gen Ys is different than that of other generations. For example, back in the 1970s, almost three-quarters of people were auditory learners. Today, it’s the complete opposite. This means that the wrong type of training and development can be disengaging to a Gen Y employee. The vital components of a Gen Y training program are listed below;

Job satisfaction

There are five keys factors at play in terms of job satisfaction for Gen Ys. Maintain a focus on all five and your Gen Ys will love the work they do.


This is, undeniably, the most important of all. Identify your Gen Ys’ unique talents and find some way to incorporate these into their work. Figure out what it is that they’re naturally great at, that they love doing, which they’d do for free, and try to incorporate it into what they do at work. It doesn’t even need to be to a large degree. If Gen Ys aren’t using their natural talents at work, they’ll never have job satisfaction.


Brought up in an environment where the number of different entertainment mediums is endless, Gen Ys transfer this to the workplace. They get bored with work that’s monotonous and repetitive. When I talk to companies about this I often hear ‘but that’s the nature of the work’. That’s a cop-out. If that’s the nature of the work, change it. Spice it up and combine it with other roles. Gen Ys will never last more than a couple of months in dead-end jobs. They’re not like previous generations that would stick with a job for a year before thinking about leaving; these guys will resign at the first hint of boredom.


A Talent 2 survey found that three quarters of Gen Y say they need new challenges in order to remain fresh in their jobs. This highly-educated and skilful generation can master tasks quite quickly. The key here is to inject a new challenge just before they hit the ‘over it’ stage so that they remain stimulated.


Generation Y is the most coachable generation – if only for the reason that they think it will get them further ahead in their careers. Coaching needs to occur regularly, at least once a month, and the conversation should be balanced between positive feedback and constructive advice on how to improve.


Gen Ys hate to be micro-managed. Give them a job to do and let them do it. Archaic procedures, lengthy decision making processes and fake empowerment make Gen Ys feel helpless and restricted. Break free from bureaucracy and Gen Y will reward you with their engagement.

Career development

A study by McCrindle Research revealed that 86 per cent of Gen Ys expect a promotion within two years as opposed to 70 per cent of Baby Boomers, while 37 per cent also placed ‘opportunity for advancement’ in the top three reasons for getting or keeping their job. 79 per cent rated career development through additional training as being ‘very important’.

So how do we manage the careers of this ambitious and promotion-hungry generation? Here’s an ironic statement:
the more opportunities you create for your Gen Ys to leave, the less likely they are to leave. This is because Gen Ys are concerned not necessarily with being employed, but with being employable. If you continue to provide them with more items to add to their resume, they’ll stay longer than they otherwise would. See below for a simple career development process for use with your team.

Just like dolphins

The best way I can think of to summarise how to manage Gen Y employees is by comparing them to dolphins:


Dolphins have frequently been described as the most intelligent animals on the planet. Likewise, Gen Ys are the most educated generation in history, which means they get bored in jobs where they’re not constantly learning and being challenged. Give them work that’s meaningful and that makes a difference.


Dolphins love human interaction in the same way that Gen Ys value an interactive workplace. Create an environment that fosters teamwork and enables them to frequently interact with their colleagues.


Dolphins live in pods, sometimes forming schools of over one thousand. Even though the loyalty of Gen Ys to companies might be diminishing, their loyalty to their peers is increasing. Foster a culture where your Gen Ys are able to build strong relationships with their team-mates and their managers.


Residing in our massive and endless seas, dolphins that aren’t in captivity experience true freedom. This is the same kind of independence that Gen Ys crave. Give them real responsibility, don’t be bossy, avoid micromanaging and enable them to have influence over what happens at work.

Granted, it is hard to focus on every point contained in this Manual for Success, so perhaps it’s easier to keep in mind the results of a nationwide survey that was conducted by the Foundation for Young Australians. This showed that the three main things that Generation Y employees want in the workplace are: meaning (they want to believe in something that has a bigger purpose), control (they want to be able to make decisions and have the resources to finish tasks), and connectedness (involvement in teamwork).

Just focusing on these three points will at least give you a head-start over the thousands of other Australian businesses that are being left behind in the Gen Y revolution.


James Adonis
James is a leading international expert on employee engagement who shows managers around the world how to engage their employees and turn them into loyal high-performers. By the time he was 24, James was managing a team of 100 people. His major achievements have
included taking a team that had employee turnover exceeding 70 per cent and reducing it to zero, a level which was maintained for two years. He has also achieved employee engagement results that have exceeded not only the industry standard, but world’s best practice.
Recognised internationally as an expert on engagement and retention, James’s articles are regularly published in many countries. He is frequently featured in the media as a thought leader on people management and is the author of Love Your Team: How to halve your employee turnover in less than 90 days! Thought-provoking and entertaining, James’s keynote presentations and workshops show companies how to solve staff turnover problems, engage Generation Y, and win the war for talent. James has presented to audiences across Australia, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, with an impressive list of clients including McDonald’s, American Express, Coca-Cola,
and Gucci. James is the president of the National Speakers Association of Australia (NSW Chapter) – the youngest person in the
history of the association to hold such an honour. For more information contact James at:

James Adonis
PO Box 1277
Potts Point, NSW 1335 Australia
Ph: + 61 2 9331 2465
Fax: + 61 2 9331 3945
E-mail: james@jamesadonis.com
Web: www.jamesadonis.com