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Generation Y and workplace 3.0

The air freight industry has struggled to recruit new blood. To attract the best, companies must understand Generation Y’s work attitude and its use of technology, explains Niall van de Wouw, managing director at Clive

7-11 versus 9-5

There is no exact definition of Generation Y; time ranges vary. But for the purposes of this article, we’ll define it as those born between 1979 and 1997, a generation which has a wholly different approach to work than previous ones. More than any generation before, it aims to blend work and personal life seamlessly (see figure 1). From Generation Y’s perspective, it is not relevant where and when it works, as long as the work gets done on time. Mixing business and private chores between 7am and 11pm is more appealing than a full work focus from 9am to 5pm. To support staff with this lifestyle choice, companies need to provide access to core business applications from practically anywhere, at any time. But a recent study on this topic conducted by Computing, an IT magazine, illustrates that this is often not the case (see figure 2). And it is not uncommon for cargo airlines to have an even more restricted IT infrastructure.


IT departments will likely frown at making it easier for staff to access core business applications. The number of articles and blogs on the risks of implementing a bring-your-own device (BYOD) policy is countless. But cargo executives need to realise that a restricted access policy will limit employees in their chosen lifestyle, which could have an impact on their career choices. And this does not only apply to Generation Y – who wouldn’t like to at least have the option to work from home?


Working from home

Working externally from the office, however, does not always have positive connotations. As Airline Cargo Management went to press, the internet company Yahoo! made the decision to revoke all home-working arrangements. Part of the rationale behind this decision, according to a leaked internal memo, was that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home”. During the recent World Cargo Symposium, a group of around 80 cargo managers from all parts of the globe were asked if they agreed with this statement. The vast majority did not. Clearly, opposing opinions exist on the value of having staff work from home. But for the first time there is now initial scientific evidence that it can work; for both employer and employee.


Stanford and Beijing University, in conjunction with a leading Chinese travel agency, conducted a detailed work-from-home experiment. The results of this study (see figure 3) show that productivity among home workers went up by 13% versus the reference group. And that their attrition was 50% less (from 35% to 17%). There was, however, also a downside. People working from home experienced somewhat of a promotion penalty. At a similar performance, they were less likely to get a promotion than their colleagues working in the office. Out of sight, out of mind? This reality, along with missing the interaction with colleagues, made half of the staff that worked from home during the experiment return to the office environment. But from the travel agency’s perspective, the study results were so positive that they decided to offer the work-from-home option to a broader audience.


Engaging workplace

For the first time in history, there could be four generations in work at the same time. Each of these has its own unique set of features that it values the most, with regard to office space. A study conducted by Knoll, a provider of workplace furniture, reveals the generational differences in workplace preferences (see figure 4).


Generation Y scores highest for wanting an ‘engaging workplace’, while it rates ‘quality of meeting rooms’ the lowest. On the other hand, ‘baby boomers’ – the second oldest generation – reversed those rankings. Interestingly, this globally conducted research did not find distinct regional differences; the generational tie seems to be stronger than the cultural one. The office workers of the future expect a workspace that makes them feel good and keeps them connected to people they value at work. Offices with narrow corridors and numerous private rooms do not appeal to them. Nor do cubicles.


This same study further shows that offices will increasingly serve as the setting for an array of social activities and collaborative work experiences, providing spaces that employees can choose from, based on their immediate needs. The most effective offices will support the continuous transition of people moving between individual and group work modes, locations and within their primary workspaces.


Feedback junkies

Generation Y are feedback junkies. They are always on the lookout for a review of their own performance. It is a crucial component of their continuous strive to improve. The annual review cycle commonly deployed at airlines is simply not up to their preferred standard. Airlines might want to consider how top-tier consulting firms assess their staff (which consist of a relatively high share of Generation Y). These companies frequently conduct a review after each major project, and offer a twice yearly, in-depth formal assessment.


This thirst for feedback is not limited to Generation Y’s own performance; reviews from others on all sorts of topics are used in their decision-making. They will not buy a product, book a holiday, or go to a restaurant before checking out the feedback from others. And as of late, review sites seem to be building some momentum. Indeed, one of the largest job search websites in the world, is putting company reviews next to job searches (see figure 5). Its users placed over 1 million reviews in 2012, and are adding 200,000 each month. And Glassdoor, which provides an inside view on jobs and companies, claims to hold some 130,000 employee workplace reviews. Admittedly, it is still in the early stages, but reviewing your employer might become just as common as commenting on last night’s restaurant. A trend that should not be ignored in the contest for attracting talent.


Always connected

The defining technology of Generation Y is the internet. The impact of this technology has been far greater than the impact of the defining technology of previous generations (see figure 1). It has brought them many things – one of them being the option to be connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether it is through applications such as Whatsapp, Skype or Facebook, they are continuously connecting with friends, family, colleagues and clients. While sending and receiving information to and from all sorts of directions, they continuously coordinate and adjust. Hence, they are less inclined to make detailed, long-term plans as their experience shows that they don’t hold up in the extremely connected and constantly changing landscape. Not surprisingly this preference does not tie in well with how cargo airlines often use detailed Microsoft Excel or Project documents to run their activities.


So, technology vendors are introducing business applications that support the move from one-to-one communication to one-to-many. The latter has proved, in the social media domain, to be an efficient communication approach. Business conversations that used to happen via email, phone and meetings are now accessible to a broader set of people through feeds and private conversation groups, just like on Facebook. One cargo airline has been using such technology to manage global key accounts. And this technology might not only provide the linking pin between the different types of planning preferences, it also provides efficiency gains. One company claims that its conference calls, meetings and email volumes declined by 20 to 30% due to this new form of collaboration.

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