By Karen Axelton

Born between 1981 and 2000, Generation Y—also known as the Millennials—is shaking up the global work force with new attitudes and new approaches to business.

Understanding how these 20-somethings work and think is crucial for international companies. Talent Mobility 2020, a study from PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) reports that population declines in many Western nations make Gen Y an important source of future new talent. And because Gen Y employees believe international experience is important to their development, PwC reports, they are more open to working internationally than previous generations.

What opportunities and challenges does this new work force present for international entrepreneurs? We asked DWEN members for their thoughts.

“The biggest opportunity is their natural way of dealing with technology,” says Nora Abousteit, whose most recent venture, Kollabora, is a community for the curious and creative to discover the latest fashion-forward projects. “They get work done faster, more efficiently and more cheaply.”

Roxanne Varza agrees. “They understand social communication and marketing naturally, without much need for training,” says Varza, the former Editor of TechCrunch France, founder of Girls in Tech Paris and RudeBaguette.com, and co-organizer of the Failcon Paris conference. “They're also good at multitasking.”

The biggest challenge? Employee retention. In a study by Robert Half International, What Millennial Workers Want, Gen Y workers expected to change jobs and careers much more frequently than prior generations. Abousteit says she and her colleagues have noticed that staying two years at one workplace is about average for Gen Y.

Varza concurs. “Gen Y has a much shorter attention span and is hungry for ‘instant’ results and gratification,” she says. “It is much more difficult to build a lasting relationship with them.”
 
But it’s not impossible—if you understand how Gen Y thinks. While the Robert Half study found Gen Y’s most important criteria in accepting a job were salary and benefits, close behind was the opportunity for career growth. “Their work needs to have a social impact,” explains Abousteit. “It’s not all about a big paycheck or working for a prestigious corporation. They want to feel that they can believe in your mission statement.”

Varza believes it’s crucial to make work about more than completing tasks. “Work is more than a 9-to-5 job—it has become a full-out way of life,” she says, citing Google, which allows employees to work on whatever they want 20 percent of the time, as a company successfully engaging Gen Y employees.

Flexibility is also key to engaging Gen Y. Abousteit recommends offering a customized working environment that lets young people decide when, where and how to work, choose their own tech tools and pick projects related to their interests.

Indeed, flexibility is key in your own mind-set as well. “I hate making sweeping generalizations for entire populations,” says Varza. “It's important to recognize individuality in working with anyone.”

Donna Fenn agrees. “I think these young people just want to be managed the way we all would like to be managed,” says Fenn, who is the author of Upstarts: How GenY Entrepreneurs are Rocking the World of Business, a Contributing Editor for Inc. Magazine, and co-founder of YEC Mentors. “They want to feel that the work they are doing has meaning and value; they want their successes acknowledged and their weaknesses addressed through mentoring and training; they want to work in environments that are team-oriented and collaborative; and they want to have fun, because we all spend a lot of time at work. I don’t think that’s ‘entitled.’ I think it’s a blueprint for the future of work.”
 karen axeltonKaren Axelton is Chief Content Officer at GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.