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Globally, generation Y (gen Y) refers broadly to the demographic cohort born between 1975 and 1995. The group is seen as reliant on new media and digital technology with short attention spans. They expect entertaining and fast-paced information and are assumed to be self-centred, demanding, and hard to integrate into teams.
However, beware assuming that generations are comparable across national and cultural boundaries. In much of the West, one speaks of baby boomers, generation X (gen X) and Y, assuming more or less standard birthdates for the cohorts.
In China, Japan and South Korea, during the same time span of 1940-2000, one has respectively 6, 6, and 4 generational groups, all defined differently and with different names and birth periods. It would be a vast oversimplification to assume that gen Y in China is equivalent to gen Y in the US, Germany or South Korea, despite their sharing some traits such as being highly connected via social networking sites.
Employers seeking to understand how to best attract, retain and manage their young talent ignore these differences at their peril. Across Europe and East Asia, organisations of all types and sectors worry that there are not enough educated members of gen Y to replace the older generation as it retires. Other places such as India and the Middle East are demographically younger but some of their young are undereducated. It is therefore crucial that organisations learn how to best manage and engage gen Y.
As consumers, gen Y attracts much attention from market researchers who have realised early on that the group itself has different values, such as placing emphasis on environmental issues, but in other respects gen Y varies between countries.
Cases of successfully adapting to gen Y employees include a consumer goods company asking a group of gen Y staff to develop its on-boarding or induction training programme for new hires. The staff developed a popular course using touch screens for questionnaires and cartoon figures as programme guides. Also an internet company devised a HR system that looks like a video game rather than consisting of forms.