Engaging Gen Y- starting from the top

How does a CEO connect with the Gen Y employees in their organization to maximize business results?

To answer this question we did a quick and dirty virtual focus group of high performing Gen Y employees across small, medium and large organizations and here are some of the top points that were made:

  1.  Seek out and consider my ideas and those of my co-workers. 
  2. Look for my help as part of the company being successful. 
  3. Don’t put me in a box and give me a list of tasks.
  4.  Be transparent about the big picture of the company. 
  5. Help me see how what I do positively or negatively impacts the organization.
  6. Be more of a mentor than a Boss – help me overcome obstacles rather than micromanaging me on every detail.
  7. Appreciate me more for the results that I achieve than the hours that I put in.
  8. Engage and inspire me through empowerment and innovation vs traditional prizes and financial reward/incentive programs
  9. Authentically communicate with me – help me connect with you as a person vs as a formal figurehead of the company.
  10. Listen, be respectful and be fair as you deal with the workplace challenges that are inherent in multi-generational workplaces
  11. Role model risk-taking for me to show me how it helps move the organization move forward

 Interestingly enough, as a few Gen X’ers pointed out –

these points aren’t all that different than what most employees are looking for.

 So, what’s a CEO to do?

Should they run out and set up Facebook and Twitter accounts so they can seem cool? Turn the dress code upside down and stop wearing suits and ties?

In our last post, we highlighted the fact that overall, Generation Y employees are looking for strong leadership, someone whose vision they can get behind and whose direction they can follow. This has nothing to do with what the CEO wears or how they communicate.  They also want a leader that is passionate, approachable and appreciative of their efforts – these are all behavioural attributes that can set the tone for the culture of the organization and apply to all employees.

 A few immediate actions that CEO’s can take are:

Create internal focus groups or forums

These will enable you to hear directly from the Gen Y employees in your organization. They are just waiting to be asked for their opinions, so open the flood gates to get some new ideas on the table

Be on the look out for strong GenY talent

These employees will be your leaders in 5-8 years and harnessing their passion and loyalty now through involvement in projects and developmental roles puts you in a position of strength by 2020 when many of your Boomers will have retired. 

Consider a reverse-mentoring pilot

Who better to start off with than yourself and your senior team ? Pair up with up and coming GenY employees to learn about Social Media, collaboration tools, market trends etc. Both sides will come away with new ideas and a better appreciation of the other.

Stay tuned for our next post where we highlight some suggestions on how best to communicate transparently and authentically to engage your teams.


Lee Vincent is AVP Human Resources at Northwestel and an Impact People Practices team member. In her role at Northwestel she is accountable for leading all strategic and operational people practices throughout Canada’s North. Her innovation and creativity, coupled with her strong business background and execution focus, have enabled Northwestel to continue to grow and succeed in this challenging operating environment. Leveraging her MBA, Certified Human Resources Practitioner certification (CHRP), Royal Roads Executive Coaching Certification and Strategic Masters in Human Capital, Lee brings a passion for solving business and people problems to the organizations she works with and is focused on increasing organization wide results (employee, customer, financial) through the creation of impactful workplaces.


In addition to our formal poll of Gen Y employees we knew, we also created a more casual conversation on the Impact People Practices Facebook page and asked three questions:

1. What is different about the nature of the relationship Gen Y want with their boss and workplace
2. What is one thing your CEO could do differently to really ignite great engagement from you
3. Who is an example of a great “Social CEO you know? “

Below is a snapshot of some of the fabulous comments we got- please add your comments below and let’s continue the conversation!