The workforce today holds the largest generational gap that employers have experienced. For a long time, employees were expected to fit into a particular mold of the workforce, but now employees are demanding that the workforce fit them. One of the most difficult challenges in redeveloping the workforce, however, is accepting that change is only as good as the willingness to adapt.
It’s easy to become settled, complacent and refuse change, believing that “the way it’s always been” will continue to work in the future. That limits employees’ abilities, resulting in them becoming disengaged. Many employers are taking steps to work with the changing workforce by attending workshops, talks and programs, which give leaders tools to empower and engage employees.
Why change now?
While many like to believe change is happening because of the millennial generation, they’re only pushing for things that everyone else wants out of work: happiness, productiveness and a sense of purpose. Unfortunately, according to Gallup News’ statistics from 2015, only 32 percent of employees are engaged, which means the majority aren’t feeling happy, productive or impactful. Reasons for disengagement can vary, but it’s up to leaders to take initiative to change it.
Every employee brings unique skills to the table. Older employees can be filled with great advice and wisdom to share. Younger employees can have fresh ideas and be tech savvy. By combining the two together not only would work become more productive, but more enjoyable all around. Today’s employees aren’t just worker bees who come for the paycheck. There’s some level of care a person feels toward their job.
“There are a lot of things influencing change, which isn’t just new generations coming in,” elaborated Cassandra Halls, president and founder of 2 The Top. “Baby Boomers are also exiting the workforce, and they have so much knowledge to share. The change is about managing the transition of the amounts of knowledge that’s leaving and putting it some place for others to access. People could be resistant to change but then where would we be? Even though it isn’t comfortable, the results are usually positive.
“Our responsibility is to put our frustration aside, forget what we think we know and figure out how to groom all talent in the workplace to bring out their best. To be effective with all generations, you must be open to compromise, welcome the question ‘Why?’ and challenge people to drive solutions. All generations add value and each contributes to the workplace in their own way.”
The main obstacle is resistance to change. When employees settle into a routine, it can be difficult to go another direction even if it’s easier and less time-consuming. It’s important to remember that while younger generations are entering a workforce, the entire market of who’s being served is changing as well.
Long-term workplace changes
- Give fresh varied experiences and challenges
- Hold info workshops to make sure every employee is on the same page
- Attend workplace development talks
“The most successful companies and cities across the nation are those that are able to be open to change and implement new ideas that benefit all members of the workforce,” continued Halls. “The next part of this is getting over the why, as in ‘why do I have to do this?’ We get so stuck in the ways we’ve always done things. That doesn’t mean that what we’re doing is the best or only way, it’s just the level of comfort in how we’ve always done it. You can find better time savings and cost advantages if you embrace the process.
“When it comes to having multiple generations in your workforce, you have the ability to work in teams. A more seasoned workforce will want to just tackle the assignment and be done with it, but through the use of teams, you’ll get multiple viewpoints and better results. They’ll drive change, which will be influenced by peers rather than from the top-down.”
Refining work culture
Communication is a difficult issue for many employers, especially when reaching out to the community and employees in all departments. Each generation communicates differently — from newspapers to social media feeds. A common area of resistance is utilizing more technology and online sources, such as blogs and social media. Even though it will take effort in relearning a new way of doing things, the advancement in technology can make the job easier by saving time and effort — similar to the way faxing and emailing saves someone a trip for documents or time waiting for snail mail.
The way information is shared can create a positive transformative impact in the work environment and in community relationships. Communicating effectively across all mediums appears to be a tedious task, but doing so has paid off for many places such as Carlisle, Iowa.
“Cassandra explained (the) different ways different generations look at things in the workplace and how they communicated in her talk,” reflected Andy Lent, city administrator of Carlisle. “I asked myself if I was covering all of these; how can I communicate with them better; and how can I improve on what I’m doing to make sure everyone’s getting the message. We put news items in the newspaper, our website, Facebook and Twitter, constantly maintaining the feed to hold interest.”
Communication also evolved in the office, with Lent stating, “We needed to communicate more between employees, so we’ve implemented info sessions to keep them informed on projects and what’s happening in the community. They want to be a part of what’s happening. I involve them more and let them know that their opinion matters. I’ve seen a lot of times (when) employees weren’t sure what a project was; now they have increased knowledge. It’s improved the workplace environment to know what’s going on.”
While there are rigid budgets and time constraints creating employee engagement and setting a new tone for workplace culture can be done in small, meaningful ways until a budget can be created. This can include starting conversations, providing constructive feedback beyond yearly performance evaluations, having lunch or potluck events together and just showing care toward employees as individuals.
“Be more open and involved with your employees in seeking out their opinions,” Lent advised. “We’ve become a place where teamwork is more important. We’re doing more events to increase camaraderie like lunches where we just sit down and talk. It’s brightened up the place and has made it much more enjoyable to work in.”
Ways to implement change on a budget
- Provide more constructive feedback
- Give recognition for good work
- Utilize every opportunity to work as a team
- Assign mentorships
- Overcome assumptions and perceptions of generations
- Show appreciation for employees as individual people
The second part will appear in the February issue of The Municipal, and it will focus more on techniques that can encourage change within the workspace and its culture.