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Gen Y and the Recession

September 26, 2009

Millennials

Over the past year, young nonprofit workers have watched friends in other industries -- from book publishing to finance -- lose good-paying jobs. Now, with evidence mounting that it's the nonprofit sector's turn in the cross-hairs, many young nonprofit workers are nervously wondering if they'll be next.

So it was a pleasant surprise to come across a recent article by Generation Y expert Amy Lynch in the Cookeville (TN) Times that paints a more optimistic picture of my generation's response to the downturn.

Few of today's 20-somethings, Lynch reminds us, escaped childhood free of financial worries. Also know as Millennials, the oldest members of Gen Y were toddlers during the great downsizing wave of the early 1980s, were in elementary and middle school during the recession of 1991, and graduated from college just in time for the dot-com bust, the Enron fiasco, and the recession that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11. Members of Gen Y "have never experienced a sustained period of financial prosperity," says Lynch, "and they have no memory of job security. They don't even expect Social Security to be there for them later on. In one study, young adults said they believed they were more likely to see an alien spacecraft than ever to receive a Social Security check."

What does that mean in the context of the current downturn? And what qualities do Gen Yers bring to business during tough times? "Try optimism and hard work," writes Lynch. "You'd expect a generation raised on insecurity to be cynical like the Generation Xers who preceded them," she adds,

but that's not so. Prodigious volunteers and politically active (look at the record numbers who voted in this election), 20-somethings tend to bring can-do confidence to big problems. If you think of this group as trust fund babies, think again. In 2006, 37% of Ys between the ages of 16 and 19 held jobs.

Lynch goes on to list four things employers can do to ensure that their young workers weather the financial storm:

  • Share information with them freely. Don't let them hear news about your business or your industry from anybody else first. Info is the air Millennials/Gen Yers breath. They respond to lots of info, even bad news, with trust. And trust creates loyalty.

  • Tell the young people in your organization that it's time to be entrepreneurial inside the organization. Ask them to show you how they can be useful and what extra projects they can take on. Expect them to rise to the challenge, and many of them will.

  • Be prepared to follow their lead. Because they're so heavily networked, Millennials/Gen Yers are the people most likely to scout out new trends, ideas, and markets first. Charge your Ys with finding solutions that will see your business through the crisis.

  • Last but not least, put your mentoring programs on steroids. Link Millennials with your most experienced baby boomers. Pairings with professionals who have seen hard times before will enhance loyalty among the Gen Y talent you want to retain at a time when you need it most.

Good advice. Do you know of an organization that has done something creative to take advantage of the talents of its Gen Y employees during this downturn? What other steps can nonprofit leaders take to put the experience of their employees, of all ages, to good use? Use the comments section to share your thoughts....

-- Regina Mahone

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Nonprofts need to do a better job of providing opportunities for advancement within the organization as well as providing opportunities for true capacity building.

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