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Gen Y helps businesses survive recession

Media release
3 November 2009

Gen Y helps businesses survive recession

New Zealand’s Generation Y employees have changed from being demanding and unrealistic into creative agents of change, say participants at a CFO roundtable hosted by financial recruitment specialists Robert Half.

Chief financial officers and finance directors said younger employees had changed their attitudes during the recession – and their employers now saw them in a different light.

Just 12 months ago, employers were complaining about Gen Y’s high expectations and lack of loyalty, saying 20-somethings frequently changed jobs after six months to a year and expected rapid promotion and high salaries.

But now employers see engaged young people, able to think laterally and find creative solutions to pressing business problems.

“I see these people have converted from a drain into a resource, because they are staying longer,” said Paul Chambers, former CFO of Transfield – now CFO of Meridian Energy. “They pick up enough of the business to work more effectively.”

And they also refuse to unthinkingly accept established ways of doing things, which helps organisations that have to come up with smarter, more efficient ways of operating.

“They ask questions about why – why do we do it this way?” said Marlon Bridge CFO of Manukau Water.

Those questions often led to different and more efficient ways of doing things, said Gary Agnew, CFO of electronic transactions company Paymark.

“None of the Gen-Ys at Paymark have gone through a recessionary time before,” he said. “They have taken on the challenge of looking at new and more efficient ways of doing things and saving costs.”

Megan Alexander, general manager of Robert Half New Zealand confirmed a change in attitude and said young job seekers no longer had unrealistic salary expectations. Also, because there were fewer jobs available, and fewer of their friends were changing jobs, they were happy to stay put for longer.

During the round table discussion, chaired by Robert Half Asia Pacific managing director David Jones, the finance leaders discussed how their organisations had adapted to the recession and how they were positioning themselves for the upturn.

All said the recession had brought an increased emphasis on loyalty – between businesses and their suppliers and customers, and also between businesses and their staff.

Grant Judge, head of finance – engineering of Downer Engineering, had a warning for the employers that had imposed pay cuts on their staff in the past 12 months: “As soon as there’s a pickup, a lot of their people will change jobs.”

And Megan Alexander had a word of caution for employers that had cut staff numbers but expected the same outputs from those remaining. “A lot of candidates are groaning under the pressure of heavy workloads,” she said. Some were already beginning to look for new jobs, even though they realised their search might take several months.

Robert Half is producing a White Paper, based on the roundtable, titled Lessons from the downturn: Positioning for business success. It will be available for download later this month from

Participants at the roundtable discussion were: David Jones, managing director, Robert Half Asia Pacific; Megan Alexander, general manager, Robert Half New Zealand; Gary Agnew, chief financial officer, Paymark; Marlon Bridge, chief financial officer, Manukau Water; Ken Budgen, contract financial adviser, Gough Forklifts; Paul Chambers, former chief financial officer, Transfield; Grant Judge, head of finance – engineering, Downer Engineering; Rod Marvin, finance director, Rayonier; Judith McKay, general manager, finance and estate, AUT University; Kelvin Wong, chief financial officer, New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants.


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