Employers should “encourage and embrace” Gen Y – in Japan and globally

Written by BCCJ
June 10, 2014

Written by BCCJ
June 10, 2014

This afternoon, BCCJ members and guests enjoyed an event led by Brian Christian, principal of The British School in Tokyo (BST): Diversity Beyond Gender: the Challenge of Generation Y & beyond.

During an engaging 25 minute presentation at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, Brian tackled some myths surrounding young people entering the workforce in the 21st century.

He firstly argued that, contrary to popular opinion, Generation Y – those born from 1980 onwards – are not “digital natives”. Many had already become teenagers during the early stages of the internet; many others had graduated university before the use of mobile phones and smartphones had become widespread. But, generally speaking, he said, Gen Y’s ability to become “early adopters” of new technology tends to make them excited about change. “Gen Y is used to change and we can use this adaptablity in the workplace. We need to encourage it, embrace it and be thankful for it.”

He went on to suggest that Generation “Why?” would be a more appropriate label for those coming after Gen X, since young people these days have a propensity to question the status quo: “Why are we doing it this way? If I can get the job done in four hours why do I have to stay here for eight? Why don’t we try this? Why is he senior to me just because he’s older, been here longer – just because he’s a man? Why can’t I go to New York? Why didn’t you give me the job?”. While this might seem like a nightmare scenario for employers, Brian argued that Gen Y’s active approach to seeking and receiving facts and feedback is something to be welcomed in the world of work.

As avid social media users, Gen Y, said Brian, were more open to receiving regular or even immediate comments from their peers and elders – expecting to be told how they could improve. This sits in contrast to his own early career in teaching where appraisals and assessment were not commonplace.

He explained: “When people post pictures on Facebook and tweet for the world to see they are looking for a response. This is a generation that actually seeks out feedback and genuinely wants it. They are used to the fact that people tell them the truth. That’s refreshing in the workplace. I don’t think Gen Y are quite as soft as their predecessors. They are used to constructive criticism, they deal with it and they learn from it.”

There were words of caution for employers: “Young people have repeatedly told that their working lives would be different to those of previous generations”, Brian explained. “There is therefore an expectation that they will be trained and developed at work, and offered new opportunities and experiences. They have been told time and time again that in today’s world no job is forever, that unlike their predecessors they will have to be responsive and adaptable, and that they must expect to hold a number of different jobs during their working life. Gen Y are more likely to leave a company, or even a country, if they don’t find what they want”.

In a lively Q&A session, Brian said that Gen Y had perhaps missed out on developing the ability to focus, due to the attention-grabbing nature of notifications and social media. However, he was keen to point out that this is a problem for another generations, too.

He also suggested that the generation currently in primary school could benefit from being taught computer coding from an early age.

In response to a question about the Japanese education system (the BST currently shares a campus with Showa Women’s University) Brian said it was important for Japan to implement a framework that would allow women to simultaneously enjoy a career as well as family life. “Young Japanese women are forming expectations and aspirations based on what they see overseas”, he said, “They are keen to get out there and see it for themselves”.

He also suggested that ‘foreign’ employers in Japan should step up and offer young Japanese a more flexible working style, to meet their growing need for a work-life balance – something that their fathers and grandfathers did not have.

What people are saying

“Another good session provided by the BCCJ…thanks!”