Sunday, July 22, 2007

What Gen Y Really Wants

There was an article in the July 16 issue of Time magazine called "Work-Life Balance: What Gen Y Really Wants". It speaks to certain aspects of the young-adult problem, and also addresses the need for businesses to adapt their way of thinking about hiring and employee retention or else risk losing the young, 20-something energy and brainpower.

Gen Y is a difficult group to define. There are differing ideas about who Generation Y is. For example, I was born right on the cusp between Generations X and Y. Most scholars define Generation X as ending and Generation Y as beginning sometime between 1975 and 1980. I think it is safe to say that if you are reading this blog in 2007 and you are a 20-something, then you are a member of Generation Y.

The article basically looks at trends in the 20-something workplace. 20-somethings value things that previous generations didn't when it comes to their jobs. "For these new 20-something workers, the line between work and home doesn't really exist. They just want to spend their time in meaningful and useful ways, no matter where they are." Young adults value things in the workplace such as friendships, being able to work remotely, and corporate support for volunteering. And, 20-somethings aren't afraid to take their skills elsewhere if a job is not fulfilling enough. The search for meaning and the huge amount of options they have provide them with the luxury of being choosy when it comes to work. They are in demand and they know it. The fact that so many 20-somethings move back home after college and take time to travel or dabble in entrepreneurship offers them the advantage of taking their time to find a job they really want.

When I read this article, I thought two things: first, I really see myself in this discussion about 20-somethings. You might, too. Statements like "It feels normal for Gen Y employees to check in by Blackberry all weekend as long as they have flexibility during the week" sound like me (I readily admit I am an email junkie and check my work email from home all the time). "Generation Y's search for meaning makes [employer] support for volunteering among the benefits it values most." This also sounds like me--I don't want to be stuck in a meaningless office job my entire life. I want to EXPERIENCE life while helping others experience it, too.

Second, the search for meaning really seems key to defining 20-somethings, and it is not just the church that is getting that. When I first started working in young adult ministry, I thought that the church seemed like such a natural place for 20-somethings to end up because we can provide so many things they are looking for! Jesus Christ provides an ending to that endless search for meaning. However, it appears that the world is also catching on. Employers who are hoping to hold on to their 20-something workers are having to provide them with meaning. I'm sure there are a lot of 20-somethings reading this blog who have quit a job because it seemed meaningless, stupid, degrading, or whatever (I know I have!). Well, employers are starting to catch on and are changing the way they think about the workplace in order to hold on to their young potential-filled new-hires. That just proves that... the church is going to have to make some changes, too, if we want to attract and keep 20-somethings involved.

One way for the church to do that is through the three things I mentioned earlier that 20-somethings value: friendships, being able to work remotely, and support for volunteerism. Here is what I propose as a start:

  1. Building friendships with people our own age who have similar interests as us may bring us to church if our friends value it, too. Gen Y is big on trust, and you have to earn it--but once you do, we are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Building non-threatening relationships on neutral ground around Christ-centered themes will encourage interest in the church. Even if they never physically ENTER a church building, groups like this are still a part of the greater CHURCH ("Where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, I am there among them", Matthew 18:20), and are being successful with young adults. How do we do this? Think "Starbucks Bible Study," "Theology Pub," or "Happy Hour Fellowship" for starters.

  2. Being able to work remotely means having access to your community and what's important to you from somewhere else. It means doing outreach via email, blogs, instant messaging, and other virtual means. We are doing it right now. I've seen news reports recently on Virtual Church. This is a new trend that is becoming important to people that we should not ignore (I personally feel that there needs to be a personal, relational aspect to Virtual Church in order for it to really be the Body of Christ, but that is another blog).

  3. Volunteering is HUGE among Generation Y. This ties into our search for meaning and our desire for something MORE. Any successful church program for 20-somethings is going to provide opportunities for service. Gen Y wants to feel like we are making a difference, and we aren't likely to stick around for real long if we think something is meaningless.

This is a really interesting article that I suggest you read. Even though it is an article about the business world, I think we need to pay attention to what it can tell the church about how to reach Gen Y. You can access the article here.

1 comment:

Mr. Drew said...

Thanks for the post and the link to the article. It is amazing that the wants and desires of Generation Y aren't much different from those of my generation - maybe its just the freedom and time to realize them that is different.

Friendships are essential, especially when you consider that the socialization opportunities for adults with children are not usually designed as socialization activities for adults - they are child centric, and since adults provide transportation, they are "there". We tend to gravitate towards people we know, or get lost in Blackberries, reading, or something else decidedly asocial.

Working Remotely is a luxury I currently enjoy. There is a lot to be said for being available to your children, not having a commute, decreasing pollution by letting my car sit idle, and just plain being able to get things done from anywhere. This works well for getting work done, and helping my quality of life.

When it comes to relational things, though, it does fall short. There is nothing better than face-to-face contact. Its hard to give a virtual hug to someone who needs it, or hold a virtual hand. Are we really "gathered" when we are in a virtual space?

Volunteering This is a big one. So many in my generation say they don't have time to help anyone, and cite example after example off their harried schedule of things that are all about them and their overscheduled children. Involving yourself in activities that serve your children and others is a good thing, and a good example for others. There is a big difference between sending a check and being with someone who is directly benefiting from your help. I am not speaking ill of those who can share the blessing of their wealth with others - this is a tremendous gift. I just think that the experience of being with someone and helping them is so much richer for both people.