If you work for a company that employs the younger generations, you may have a lot of questions. I often hear there is a major disconnect between the young workforce (comprising Millennials and Gen Zers) and the established workforce made up of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. If you are among the more seasoned crowd, it may be useful to gain some insights into the perspective of younger generations. The better you understand how they think and what they need, the more likely you can keep them happy in their jobs.
I personally fall between Millennial and Gen Z. On top of that, I graduated college and entered the workforce at the beginning of the infamous COVID-19 pandemic. Through my own experience, as well as through those of friends and family, I have noticed some themes that I believe can help employers better understand younger generations and their view of the workplace.
Before we dive into how best to meet their needs, we must consider basic driving forces that create differences among generations. In short, each generation has a unique worldview. Technology, economy, and world events always have an invisible hand in culture. If you compare the technology and economy of 30 years ago to today, you would undoubtedly find significant differences. With different economic and technological factors, each generation faces a set of challenges.
Currently, the younger workforce is going through a turbulent period. They are at the stage of life where they are trying to find a place to call home, start a family, and build a career. They are scrambling to make ends meet and plan for the future—obstacles that can seem daunting to overcome. Feeling discontented can potentially lead to life-changing choices, such as relocation or finding new jobs. Such decisions are often viewed as necessary to obtain a stable and happier future.
When I ask people who are my age why they change or want to change their career, most of them say they do not feel valued by their company. If employers want to retain good employees of younger generations, it’s important that they make them feel valued. Based on my experience and those of people I know, here are some ideas on how you can make young people feel more valued in the workplace.
Be a True Family
This goal may sound cliché, because almost every company likes to call itself a family, but few companies actually do it. Being a business family means that your employees feel a sense of connection and interest in each other that goes beyond the workplace. If you are going to work a job for most of your life, it may as well be in the company of people who care about you.
In the early stages of joining a new company, it is very easy for an employee to feel alienated. It is bound to happen to some extent because they are unfamiliar with the company’s culture and people. But remember that first impressions matter. If there is no effort to mitigate this feeling of alienation, it will stick with them and serve as a voice of doubt in any relationship they form. So, when you hire new people, try your best to make them feel included. Get to know them. They will appreciate it, and you will be glad that you did it.
Keep Them Busy
Would you be surprised to hear that your younger workers want to work? What I often hear from friends entering the workforce after college is that they are not given enough work. If they are given work, it tends to be tasks that they can finish within an hour. After that task, they must chase down their boss and ask for another one—and the cycle repeats.
Once you work for a company long enough, you may be able to distinguish between what absolutely needs to get done and what you can do when times are slow. But as a new employee, you can’t do that so easily.
When young employees start a job, their ambitions are through the roof. They want their work to make a difference in the company. This ambition dwindles and goes to waste if they are not met with similar energy and given enough work. To harness all their ambition, be strategic and provide a structured work plan for people who are onboarding. Provide them with projects, not tasks. By starting them on a project that touches multiple aspects of their job, they will quickly and intuitively learn how to best maneuver through their job responsibilities. By engaging them in projects instead of individual tasks, you are inadvertently giving a series of challenging and interconnected tasks. Because projects take time and effort, new hires will keep busy with more meaningful work—from the start.
Positive Reinforcement and Feedback
Doing a job without feedback can be nerve-racking. Young new hires often stress to me that they do not receive feedback. It is not that they want praise for what they are doing, but they worry that they are not doing a good job. When it comes to performance, silence gives young people the impression that they are not doing their job well or sufficiently. I believe that most people would prefer complete transparency—open expression of both the good and the bad. If someone is doing their job well, you should let them know so they can continue doing it. Likewise, if someone is not doing well, then they may want to know so they learn from you how to fix it. Transparency may be difficult for a manager and new employee alike, but if done tactfully, the result creates a better workplace. When done right, helpful feedback will help make new employees feel less paranoid about what their supervisors or co-workers think of them.
A successful onboarding process should make new employees feel comfortable and welcomed in the company. However, because each generation is different, there is no one-size-fits-all process. If you can successfully consider factors such as the needs and goals of younger generations, as well as implement solutions to address them, you will effectively bring new, young employees into your company family.
This column originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of PCB007 Magazine.