Speak their language: how to communicate with China’s Generation Y

mega-megaphoneTalent management is a perpetual challenge for employers, and one which seems to become more challenging with each new generation that breaks through to the job market.

Today’s younger generation in some respects demand more of their employers than is demanded of them. Charles Shen, Executive Vice President, Weber Shandwick China, says that in order to harness the power of this exceptionally talented but occasionally unpredictable workforce, employers need first to understand where they are coming from.

China’s employment landscape offers a particular challenge that is arguably unique to the country: its Generation Y workforce.

Generation Y, the group born after 1980, reportedly represent nearly half of China’s total labour market, making it imperative for us to understand the factors that motivate them. In order to get your message through to this new generation, which is already integrated into the workforce, you will need to learn to speak their language.

The way they think, consume and live are vastly different from earlier generations. What makes the post-90s generation in particular stand out from the others is their use of technology and the way they behave. They dislike a rigid corporate structure, they want fast progression. On this last point they can be a little impulsive at times.

In order to explain their relative impatience through the prism of China’s development it could be posited that the post-90s behave this way because they have only known a country that has boomed in a very short period of time. Therefore they expect their personal success to be just as quick and prolific. But many papers produced in the United States and beyond show that this way of thinking also extends to those born in the 1980s. In other words, it doesn’t matter where you are as an employer, it is crucial to adapt to prevailing trends.

Companies like Google and Apple have demonstrated that it is possible to attract and retain the best brains by having a culture that encourages innovation and fun. The benefits include being able to work with the best in the business, a company that has a purpose, a company that is lively, the opportunity to receive comprehensive training and little micromanaging from the bosses.

In order to succeed in China a company must be equipped with an excited and passionate workforce. Demand for talent is strong, so if a firm can foster a high degree of loyalty in this competitive market place, that will speak volumes.

However, a 2014 survey by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research suggests that not enough employers do a good job of communicating with their staff. Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism, a survey of 2,300 employees worldwide—including China—found that there is deep unrest in the workforce. In China, 86 per cent of surveyed employees had recently experienced an employer change and 62 per cent had defended their employer from criticism. However, only 44 per cent could describe what their employer does and only 33 per cent were deeply engaged with their employer. Given the sizeable proportion of Generation Y in China’s workforce it is likely they were among those polled.

If this issue of disengagement remains unresolved, the status quo of this communication disconnect will only continue. This will do companies no good because employees will not be incentivised to stay with them for long. After investing so much time and effort nurturing these individuals, surely it is in our best interests to work together with them to advance the firm while looking after their personal career development.

We need to motivate the younger members of our teams to become engaged and inspired because of the significant role they will play in shaping the future. They are technologically savvy and quick learners, possessing the necessary skills to innovate. Moreover, an employee who is motivated is more productive and more likely to speak up for the company when someone puts it down.

This means managers need to do more than send mass emails to staff or organise town hall sessions, they should also establish private and confidential channels to foster open feedback.

However, while these organised get-togethers and formal platforms are important, perhaps more so are the simple acts that take place in the office – the gestures that show an individual’s opinions are valued, that there is trust.

After all, good word of mouth is something money cannot buy.

Charles Shen is Executive Vice President at Weber Shandwick in China. He has over 30 years of experience in the country’s public relations industry, counselling globally-recognised brands on corporate branding, employee engagement and crisis management. Charles previously worked at Intel, Microsoft and China Hewlett-Packard.