By Debra Magnuson, Career Partners International – Twin Cities
With Baby Boomers beginning their moves into retirement and Generation Z, the youngest generation, now entering the workforce, the needs and expectations of employees are changing.
To provide insight into the importance and impact of this workforce revolution, Career Partners International, one of the largest talent management solution providers in the world, hosted researcher and author Dan Schawbel for a webinar entitled “Generation Z: Understanding the Next Generation of Worker.” This document discusses the concepts introduced during the webinar, as well as practices that engage employees of all ages, concluding with solutions to help organizations thrive by leveraging the strengths of the new workforce.
Leading organizations is increasingly complex and challenging on many fronts—globalization, technology use, the pace of change, and ever-escalating competition. At the same time, leaders are recognizing that they cannot rely on the same people practices as they did as recently as a few years ago. Boomer leaders, especially, are confronted with a workforce who wants things Boomers themselves wouldn’t have dreamed of requesting. We have seen employers who throw up their hands in frustration saying, “We just won’t hire young people.” Clearly, this isn’t a workable long-term strategy.
There are solutions that enable leaders and their organizations to thrive with the new workforce. Savvy organizations have found that key satisfaction drivers for younger employees can also appeal to workers of all ages.
In this whitepaper, we offer an overview of the current workforce and review of research impacting the Millennial Generation, as well as other trends impacting how workers of all ages engage and contribute to their organizations. This paper also offers recommendations for organizational executives, HR leaders, and those overseeing talent management, succession planning, and employee engagement encompassing all generations.
Who is this New Workforce?
“Demographic transformations are dramas in slow motion,” says Paul Taylor in his introduction to The Next America, a 2014 book from the Pew Research Center. Demographers, sociologists, and organizational leaders have been watching workforce trends unfold for many years, and it is no secret that the huge Baby Boomer generation, dominant in the US workforce since the 1980s, began reaching the traditional retirement age of 65 in 2011. They are now turning 65 at a rate of 12,000 per day in the US.
We also know that those 78 million Boomers raised smart, tech-savvy kids bathed in the aspirations and prosperity of their parents, and that these offspring turned out to be exceptionally good at asking for what they want, which should come as no surprise. Squeezed between the Boomers and their children is Gen X, who often holds different work values and goals than their elders, paying their dues and waiting (and waiting…) for the chance to show what they can do as leaders.
Workforce Changes in the New Millennium
In the early 2000s, business leaders were bombarded with dire warnings about the “War for Talent,” threatening imminent shortages of key workers, rising wages, and star treatment for young people with advanced educations and sky-is-the-limit expectations.
Then came 2008, and the War for Talent stopped before it really got started. Predicted workforce shifts went on hold for five years, and the recession years were a painful period of downsizing, furloughs, loss of benefits, and a tough job market for people of all ages. Hundreds of applications flooding businesses for every position created an employer’s market, and many employees experienced downgraded wages, job insecurity, and periods of unemployment. The surplus of available talent often had the unfortunate impact of making people feel expendable, with their work contributions interchangeable and devalued. Other workplace trends including increased automation, globalization, and reduced manager training, only exacerbated employees’ sense of vulnerability. Current employee engagement data tells a sorry tale of disengaged workers who now send employers a whopping message of “whatever,” or worse.
Against this backdrop, the US workforce has now reached a crucial turning point. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 the three big generations reached near parity in the workforce: 32% Boomers, 31% Gen X, and 32% Gen Y/Millennials. The Traditionalist generation (age 69 and older) made up the remaining 5%. However, that point of parity has already passed. In 2014, Millennials surpassed the number of Boomers in the workforce and there is no turning back. In industries such as call centers and fast food establishments, Millennials already constitute more than half of the workforce.Who are the Millennials? It depends on whose definitions you use. Some researchers and demographers use the years 1981-2000, others use 1982-1993, and others use 1981-1997. Whichever definition you use, the basic numbers, traits, and work motivators and de-motivators are much the same.
2014 was a watershed year for the US workforce. With a slowly yet steadily improving economy and back-on-track 401K accounts, Boomers are actually retiring (at a rate of 12,000 per day in the US) or planning to retire in the relatively near future. Gen X may finally have the chance to assume executive leadership, though now in their late 30s and 40s, many have moved on to other career and life goals, such as entrepreneurship. And this year, Millennials became the largest demographic in the workforce.
- In 2014, Millennials will make up 36% of the US workforce
- By 2030, they will be 50% of the US workforce
This shift is even more evident in other parts of the world. By 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce.
The rapid unleashing of post-recession demographic shifts means that organizations must think and act differently to attract, engage, and retain Millennials. The big events of their formative years—9/11, the War on Terror, increasing focus on getting a 4-year college education (no matter the cost), 24/7 media bombardment, and instant access to the world in the palms of their hands—have shaped Millennials’ values, beliefs, and attitudes. Add in a dose of helicopter parenting and a plummeting job market as they entered the workforce, and you have young people who are ready to take on the world, but have learned some tough lessons along the way. The world of work isn’t as easy as they thought it would be, but they still want to shape their own lives and careers; they want to do it their way.
What do Millennials Want?
Many studies tell us what Millennials value, what motivates them, and why they stay or leave their employers.
On November 6, 2014, Career Partners International hosted a webinar with Dan Schawbel, the founder of Millennial Branding LLC and author of the books ME 2.0 and Promote Yourself. Mr. Schawbel recently partnered with Randstad to conduct the first worldwide study comparing Gen Y and Gen Z workplace expectations and the findings were released in September, 2014. For Schawbel’s research, Millennials were divided into Gen Y (1982 – 1993) and Gen Z (1994 – 2010). During the webinar, the following key points were outlined:
1. Work Environment
Millennials want workplaces that:
- Offer learning and development opportunities that add value to their careers
- Place more emphasis on the work itself and less on where and when the work gets done.
- Provide opportunities to collaborate, although employees don’t need to be in the same physical location
- Give them access to the best, most recent technology
- Offer them work opportunities that align with their strengths
2. Leadership Qualities
The youngest generation desire leaders who are:
- Honest and transparent enough to share as much as possible
- Visionary and can identify a future that enhances people, communities or the world, and then generate the solidarity to get there
- Communicative and adept to articulate and exchange information in all formats, but especially in-person
3. Wellness and Community Involvement
Value is placed on employers who “give back”:
- 40% feel it’s very or extremely important that their company has a wellness program which may include health screenings, a gym, incentives for being healthy, and walking/standing desks
- Gen Z says the biggest obstacle that could get in the way of job performance is stress
- 77% of Gen Z and 63% of Gen Y are very or extremely interested in volunteering to gain work experience
4. Learning Styles
Millennials stated their order of preference for learning methodologies as:
- Cross-functional projects
- Mentoring/executive sponsorships
- Corporate-sponsored classes
- Rotational programs
- Online courses
Much has been written about the differences between Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen X and Millennials. However, less attention has been given to the areas of common ground that connect all the generations in today’s workforce.
In their book Work With Me: A New Lens on Leading the Multigenerational Workforce (PDI, 2008) authors Debra Magnuson and Lora Alexander identify four practices all generations desire in the workplace. They are:
- Flexibility—a sense of control over parts of their work schedule
- Desire for Development—opportunities to learn and grow on the job
- Coaching Approach to Leadership—bosses that ask rather than tell
- Respect—feeling listened to, included, and valued
While different generations might define these differently and want them for different reasons, companies that focus on these common-ground factors will retain their best people longer and have more engaged employees who communicate better.
Companies don’t necessarily need a different strategy for each generation. But they do need to understand what employees want, why they want it, and create workplaces in which employees—whatever their age—can thrive.
As co-author of ‘Work With Me”, this writer has continued to study how the workplace has evolved since the book was published, especially the impact of the Great Recession when too many companies went backwards in these areas. As Millennials make up an ever-growing segment of the workforce, conditions are changing fast, and organizational leaders need to keep up in order to engage the best and the brightest.
The four common-ground issues—flexibility, development, coaching approach, and respect—remain a core around which leaders can build energized work environments that support business goals. The imperative to build workforce cultures around these core issues grows stronger every day.
As the global workforce heads into 2015, the shift towards the new workforce is moving into full swing. Boomer retirements, though progressing more slowly than former “65-and-out” models, are happening. Many organizations still need their skills and experiences, and a majority of Boomers want to keep contributing. New, more flexible arrangements need to be embraced to enable forward-thinking tactics like phased retirement. An example is the US federal government’s new phased retirement program, introduced this month. 
Gen X is moving into leadership roles in greater numbers. They desire and need focused development opportunities, coaching, and mentoring as they take on executive positions. Succession planning initiatives, including identification and development of high-potential talent, are intensifying in many organizations and need to be implemented in many more. 
Millennials are already the largest generation in the workforce, both in the US and globally. According to Schawbel’s global study outlined in the recent Career Partners International Webinar, Gen Z, the youngest generation now in school, college, and early careers, wants a future workplace in which:
- Hours aren’t confined to 9-5
- Technology will be embraced at all levels
- Projects and people are more important than location of work
- Career paths will be defined earlier
- Hierarchies will flatten
The new research on Millennials in the workforce from Schawbel aligns with trends identified over the past decade by demographic and talent management experts. What is new is the pace of demographic change in the workforce now, and the increasing concurrence of recommendations for leading the new workforce, summarized as follows:
- Plan for business strategy and talent strategy
- Be more flexible
- Be more tech savvy
- Develop leadership skills needed to bring out the best in workers of all ages
- Listen better and more respectfully
- Support career development
- Increase accountability along with autonomy
- Create workplace cultures based on values and trust
As Thomas Paine said in 1797, which is still relevant for the 2015 workforce, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”