Getting Commitment from Generation Y

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Getting Commitment from Generation Y

Blog Post

Written by John Berry on 21st June 2017. Revised 27th February 2019.

6 min read

Group of employeesManagers often lament the attitudes and commitment given by those born in the 80s and 90s. Getting commitment from generation Y is difficult. They say that staff from this generation are self-opinionated, lazy and have little respect for authority.

But much of these opinions are formed because Generation Y are simply different – different from their Generation X managers and Baby-Boomer parents.

Whilst one could lecture Generation Y folk on how to change in order to get on better in the workplace, it’s always easier for managers themselves to change. This blog discusses the approach needed by managers to get commitment from Generation Y.

Characterising Commitment

There are three types of commitment:

  • Affective Commitment: where the person expresses emotion. They ‘want to stay’ with the firm.
  • Continuance Commitment: where the person has family commitments, mortgages and perhaps other commitments and therefore must stay with the firm to meet those obligations.
  • Normative Commitment: where the person has given some commitment to the firm and is now obliged to stay, such as having signed a learning agreement.

Clearly affective commitment is the most likely to lead to other positive outcomes such as motivation, performance and engagement. Managers therefore seek affective commitment in all staff. The issue is how to get it.

Why Commit

People commit to something because doing so meets their needs. There are many needs models. Alderfer, the American psychologist, described a hierarchy of three – existence (at the bottom), relatedness and growth (at the top) and this is useful in analysing this commitment problem.

In essence, staff need money to exist. Once that’s established, they then need human interaction with colleagues and managers to gain relatedness. And once they have that, they need growth – training, responsibility and stretching projects.

A person will commit if they have their needs met. However, they’ll leave if managers are not arranging an environment that fosters existence, relatedness and growth. In principle it’s a hierarchy of needs, but some people will need more of one than another.

So what does this tell us about how to get commitment in Generation Y? First we need to investigate what needs characterise Generation Y.

‘Special’ Generation

People are influenced by the environment that exists while they are growing up.

Generation Y are aged between about 20 and 35 now. They have Baby Boomer parents. They grew up in the 90s and 00s. They generally have Generation X managers.

The result of growing up in the 90s and 00s is that their Baby Boomer parents taught them that anything was possible. They saw their parents buy their own home and own shares. But they also saw their parents loose their jobs towards the end of their careers. So they see work as a means to a good life, not to life itself – because things can so often change and destroy that life.

The 80s saw the destruction of the unions and as a result the 90s and 00s became the age of individualism. People were forced to manage their own portfolio career. Nothing became given, no career was for life anymore and the prevailing lesson was that the individual takes ownership of their lot.

Technology such as Facebook allowed a persona to be built – Generation Y is the first to grow up with the idea that you construct who you are online. And they are the first to understand that technology in a global market is available to all.

So yes, Generation Y folk are special. They are open to ideas, believing that anything is possible. But they believe that there’s more to life than work. They are the best-educated generation. Recent research shows general mental ability (intelligence) rising significantly every decade and so they are the most intelligent.

The Problem with Generation Y

Research recently showed that Generation Y employees do have a problem with commitment. 40% of them expressed intent to leave their current employer within 12 months. And 60% expressed an intent to leave within two years.

So they are not committed – or at least not committed compared to previous generations that had to be offered early retirement or had to be made redundant to unseat them.

Arguably the environment existing in Generation Y’s formative years has caused a shift in values.

If firms are to avoid Generation Y leaving their employment after such a short time, managers must understand and better meet Generation Y’s needs.

Meeting Generation Y Needs

A recent joint study by Ashridge Business School and the Institute of Leadership and Management suggested that Generation Y staff have six key expectations of management.

  • Challenging, interesting work;
  • A good work-life balance;
  • Ability to use the knowledge they have:
  • Personal development;
  • To feel valued by their manager:
  • Do work valuable to society.

Four of these map directly to growth needs. One maps to existence needs and one to relatedness needs.

The argument earlier was that staff will commit if their needs are being met. This analysis shows that if Generation Y are to be persuaded to commit, the primary variable is the provision of growth opportunities.

This fits with TimelessTime’s own research showing moderate correlation (p=0.25) between developmental opportunities and affective commitment for Generation Y.

Commitment Tools

Generation X managers are more likely to use a ‘tell’ style, dictate how work is to be done and micromanaging work done by Generation Y. For their part, Generation Y want autonomy and the ability to dictate themselves how the work is to be done.

This raises the requirement for a management style of ‘manager as facilitator’ – a rather old fashioned style from the 80s when Baby Boomers were learning management. Today it’s called ‘manager as coach’.

‘Manager as coach’ means that Generation X managers must go back school to learn how to build relations with subordinates and help them succeed. Coaching is a very specific management style, hijacked more recently by business coaches to describe their methods.

The 90s and the 00s saw massive de-layering of firms. This meant that traditional progression hierarchies have gone. Managers now need to implement the trappings of structure and progressive hierarchy, so that Generation Y can foresee their progress with one firm, thereby avoiding the need to leave for another.


The summary is that commitment from Generation Y can be had. The methods of getting this reflect the needs deep-rooted in the values, beliefs and attitudes held by that generation. They are better educated and more intelligent than any. But managers must strive harder to have them stay.

Commitment is to be had through idiosyncratic (unique-to-person) management focussing on personal growth of the employee.

Call us if you'd like to learn more about managing Generation Y.