57, 33, 56 – The Keys to Retaining Your Graduate Gen Y Talent

Gen Y

Who’d be a child of the Y Generation? Knowing nothing else in the working world than recession and austerity, competition against ever-increasingly educated peers & unable to shake the stereotype of being lazy, entitled and unrealistic. On the other hand, they have been the children of the digital revolution, masters of the social media platform and accustomed to vast and unparalleled amounts of information at a simple click of a button away. This highly educated, tech-savvy, ambitious group of 20 to 30 something’s are indeed the future of management. The question is; how do organisations make the most of their potential and build them into their leadership pipeline? They have to first find a way of retaining them for longer than 2 years.

This is exactly what the first figure in the title pertains to – the rather alarming statistic that 57% of graduates expect to remain within their role for 2 years. This speaks to the fact that Gen Y’s typically see their careers as less clear cut and paved out, compared to their predecessors. There is an expectation to explore, and they are happy to spend their 20’s finding out what industry, job role, and organisation works best for them. There is a move towards the portfolio type career as opposed to the life-long, one-organisation career.

The second figure of 33 represents the most importantly ranked job feature for graduates; with 33% saying that they value ‘challenging and interesting work’ the most. This trumped salary (32%) and advancing their careers (24%). Lastly, 56% of graduates have ‘great expectations’ for their career progression. This is the rather ambitious or unrealistic (depending on which side you sit on) belief that they will be in management roles within 3 years of work.  This last figure emphasises the mindset of graduates now – who in many cases, are more educated than their managers and have an expectation of ‘now, now, now’ hence have a lack of patience for slow, bureaucratic process. These figures come from research conducted by the Ashridge Business School and the Institute for Leadership and Management (ILM) (2012). They interviewed and surveyed just under 2000 graduates and managers across the UK.

The overarching conclusion that was reached was of a mismatch in mindset and expectations between Gen Y graduates coming into the workforce and managers who are tasked with ‘engaging’ them. Some of the key distinctions boil down to the 3 figures identified above, however other differences do exist and they divide these two groups of individuals. A perfect example of this is the relationship that graduates want with their managers. 56% of graduates indicated that they want their manager to be a mentor/coach, while 21% said that they wanted their manager to be a friend. While many managers understood the former relationship (83% of them said this would be ideal), only 4% said they agreed with a ‘friend’ manager-team member relationship. Therefore there is a mismatch regarding the nature of relationship that is sought out but also regarding what is currently occurring. Managers overwhelmingly (76%) believed that they were fulfilling their role as coach/mentor, but only 26% of graduates agreed with them. This represents a disparity between the two groups in what constitutes a coach/mentor.

Another crucial mismatch in expectations which was borne out of the Ashridge/ILM report was the difference in behaviours that are required from a manager. Graduates indicated that being treated with respect and valued as individuals (43%), being trusted and given autonomy (35%), supported in their career progression (35%) and communicated to well (35%) were behaviours that topped their priority list. Whilst managers believed that graduates wanted to be provided with clear feedback on their performance (48%) and to be set clear objectives (34%). This undoubtedly reflects what is most important to the managers as these were also rated the highest for behaviours that they would expect from their managers. Hence, again this highlights the difference in mindset between generations and the shifting paradigm that is occurring. The percentages represent the amount of graduates or managers indicating these behaviours to be important.

Another very interesting and relevant piece of powerful research was conducted by The iOpener Institute (2012) with over 10,000 professionals and graduates. The overwhelming conclusion was that generation Y are motivated to stay with their current employer if they are fulfilled by their job, over their salary. Job fulfillment here was defined as loving ones job. The key message here was that graduates must see the purpose and meaning in the work they are involved in – and that this is the key engager. Gen Y individuals prioritise a sense of pride in the organisation they work for. These factors will collectively be more successful in maintaining them in the long term, rather than incremental pay rises.  A great way to track this is the willingness of Gen Y’s to recommend their employer as a place to work – hence the popularisation of awards such as The Times Best Companies to Work For. Having conducted this research, The iOpener Institute have created a Happiness at Work Psychometric which diagnoses current levels of job fulfillment and informs how it can be developed – the 5 C’s. These consist of:

  • Contribution – the effort an individual or team makes
  • Conviction – short-term motivation
  • Culture – a feeling of fit at work
  • Commitment – long-term engagement
  • Confidence – the belief in ones abilities

This tool can of course be used with graduates as well as any other group of employees. The CEO of The iOpener Institute, Jessica Pryce Jones, incidentally presented at The Psychometrics Forum earlier this year.

57, 33, 56 – 3 cardinal rules reflecting on this:

1)     Send your graduates away as ambassadors of your brand/organisation – they will leave eventually, so send them away recognising that you are a top ‘personnel development’ company.

2)     Job craft – have an open discourse with graduates and incorporate interesting and challenging work into their daily responsibilities, as well as their other tasks.

3)     Manage expectations – re-iterate and clarify their development and progression pathway.

Written by Raj Chopra, Committee Member of The Psychometrics Forum.

Twitter: @Raj_chopra24 & @TPF_UK


Institute of Leadership & Management and Ashridge Business School (2012). Great Expectations: Managing Generation Y. Institute of Leadership and Management, London, UK.

iOpener Institute (2012). Job Fulfilment, Not Pay, Retains Generation Y Talent. www.iopenerinstitue.com.