Over the past few years, we’ve seen one of the greatest shifts in the economy and the way we work in decades. Job losses reached a scale not seen since the Great Depression, and many have changed careers. This shift hasn’t been felt equally by everyone. Those who are more versatile and willing to learn will be most successful. Additionally, the makeup of today’s workforce has changed dramatically. Baby boomers have retired and are not coming back. Millennials now make up the majority of the active workforce and will account for 75 percent by 2030.
After facing widespread burnout and short-staffing in 2020, many business leaders are re-evaluating their approach. The big question is how to create an environment that appeals to a new generation of workers. CEO and public speaker Bo Parfet has tackled this question with his company Denali Venture Philanthropy and understands how you can update your work environment for today’s workforce.
Baby Boomers are Leaving the Workforce
According to Pew Research, Millennials now outnumber baby boomers. Increasingly, employers need to understand what their younger workers expect and desire in their workplace. This isn’t always easy! So there’s a lot of new research, including managing a multigenerational staff group.
It’s important we distinguish baby boomers from the new generation of workers. We call the ‘baby boomers’ group includes those born between 1946 and 1964. Baby boomers were limited to work they could find through friends, newspapers, and good old-fashioned face-to-face inquiry. Google Search wasn’t even available until 1998. In contrast, Millennials, born between 1977 and 1995, enjoy far more choices in the marketplace. They act as consumers, picking and choosing their roles. This may be even more true for ‘Gen Z’–born in or after 1996. These younger cohorts are characterized by an urban city lifestyle, hyper-consumerism, and digital media. Employers need to respond to this shift and be nimble with their hiring strategies to attract the best talent.
Instill a Sense of Purpose
Unlike baby boomers before them, millennials and Gen Z workers think a lot about the social consequences of their work. In one study by McKinsey & Company, 70 percent of U.S. employees surveyed said their sense of purpose comes from their work. Another study by Cone Communications found that 75 percent of Millennials surveyed said they would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible employer. Those who feel their work has purpose are also more likely to be engaged and committed to the company’s mission.
It’s important that purpose doesn’t become just another team-building exercise but rather a more thoughtful, honest endeavor. Millennials and Gen Z have been marketed to more than anyone else, so they’re savvy to tokenism and false advertising. Employers can help new recruits understand their role in the larger society–the “big picture.” It’s also wise to improve the general health and well-being of the company by taking honest feedback and showing a commitment to work-life balance.
Bo Parfet suggests creating an honest and open dialogue with your team about the impact the company has on its community. This may take the form of small group sessions. Be sure this is a collaborative dialogue, not a one-directional sales pitch from management. Authenticity will be recognized and appreciated.
A culture is composed of values and norms. Your work culture should reflect your brand values. Maybe you’re not clear on exactly what your brand’s values are. When working with new businesses, Bo Parfet sometimes suggests writing them out on paper and getting feedback. Why did you start the business, to begin with? What problem were you trying to solve? See what values are revealed in this thought exercise. The new generation of workers is much more concerned about company culture than the baby boomers were as a result of increased choice. They’re drawn to innovation, collaboration, and opportunities for professional development. In fact, they’re willing to take a pay cut of $7,600 for better work culture. Sometimes, demonstrating your commitment to the culture you want means making difficult decisions, like firing a team member or letting go of a client that does not align. Showing your commitment to the agreed-upon values will likely be respected in the long term. Here are a few initiatives Bo Parfet has seen new companies utilize for an improved culture:
- The option for mental health days or ‘quiet rooms in the office for resetting
- Managers demonstrating that it’s okay to leave early for family commitments
- Free meals for late work nights
- Demonstrating that diversity & inclusion are more than just a policy
Demonstrate Post-Pandemic Flexibility
The new workforce is made up of digital natives who demand flexibility in work settings and locations. The rise of remote work during the global pandemic has accelerated the shift to virtual collaboration. Baby boomers have been pressured to adapt to Zoom calls in place of regular meetings. Smartphones and apps have become even more essential as many people work from home and need to monitor communications more closely. According to professional services firm PwC, 41 percent of Millennials say they prefer to communicate with work colleagues electronically than face to face or by phone.
Flexibility is considered a required ingredient for healthy work culture. Bo Parfet recommends considering half or even full-time remote positions. This might mean providing some training in new communications apps, especially to baby boomers on the team. Bo Parfet has learned a few methods for fostering flexibility as a manager:
- Encourage creativity and open sharing of ideas
- Make employees feel comfortable about taking personal time for projects they care about
- Encourage transparency about your objectives
- Express gratitude and reward hard work
- Offer flexible work schedule arrangements (for example, flex work, remote, permanent part-time)
Be a Coach–Not a Boss
Since personal and professional development has become focal points for Millennials and Gen Z employees, they strive for a manager that will nurture this growth. As a manager, you should guide your new hires to achieve their own goals and the company’s goals, where possible. Simply delegating tasks without showing any interest in your employee’s goals will not serve to motivate them. Eventually, the feeling of being a cog in the machine sets in.
Bo Parfet provides regular feedback to his teams to ensure they’re on the same page. Additionally, the new generation is highly adept at learning new skills and motivated by the opportunity to learn more. Try offering specialized courses wherever possible (in-house or through a third-party service). There are many options available through e-learning platforms like LinkedIn, Coursera, and Udemy.