The following article is by Agapi Gessesse is Executive Director of CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals, an organization dedicated to addressing economic issues affecting Black youth in Canada.
How many times have we heard that the next generation knows nothing about hard work? In reality, their version of hard work – and their expectations – just look different than that of their parents. With Millennials and Generation X making up most of the labour market, workplace culture is changing in many ways.
As I was preparing to write this article, I brought it up at one of our morning scrums (a scrum is a place where we solve problems, share ideas and current events or ask non-work-related questions). I asked our Millennial and Gen X employees and volunteers, what are three things that you think are the responsibility of an employer to help young adults integrate into the workplace? As a team, we came up with three main themes: career management, culture and engagement.
Contractual work is increasingly common, which leaves workers uncertain of their employment status within organizations. To build trust and help young workers plan for their future, transparency is essential. Employers need to ensure workers are informed of organizational funding and the diverse changes that may occur in job requirements. Also, transparency builds loyalty; if you’re transparent around the decisions that you’re making as a leader or as an organization, professional and personal mutual respect can develop. It can also help build loyalty around a common goal. Millennials and Gen X employees may be eager to jump in on special projects or to develop new solutions, as they are unbelievably resourceful and like to problem-solve and learn new skills.
“To build trust and help young workers plan for their future, transparency is essential.”
At CEE Centre For Young Black Professionals, we experience how system navigation and social capital is a large barrier for young people moving upward in their careers. To help young people grow their career, organizations should have a culture of mentorship between senior-level leaders and more junior employees. Senior leadership should meet with employees at least once a year to discuss their goals and ways in which they intend to reach those goals. To be most effective in influencing career management, mentorship should lead to sponsorship; if an opportunity comes up that a young employee is ready for and has expressed interest in, a senior-level employee can extend an introduction and/or provide recommendations.
Mental health and stress have become an epidemic among younger generations. This becomes costly for employers due to the fact that employees are taking time off work and, when they are at work, they feel overwhelmed and experience higher anxiety levels.
Other ways to address mental health and well-being in the workplace is by creating a physical space for employees to go and take a break that is pleasant to be in. At CEE, we incorporated a wellness room with a couch, a plant wall, soft colours and a relaxing environment. The colour schemes, plant life and leisure decor offer a zen environment. In some organizations, this area may be geared toward creating a game room or a staff lounge. Whatever it is, a place for employees to take moments to relax is of great importance.
A culture of acceptance can also help young adults feel more comfortable in the workplace. One of the things that was repeatedly spoken about during our scrum conversation was employers understanding younger generations and embracing them for who they are and what they bring to the table. For instance, if we look at CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, they were creatives, geniuses and business owners, but they dressed how they wanted. Youth have fresh ideas and perspectives to bring to the table, but if they are forced to conform to corporate ideologies of dress code and etiquette, they may feel their unorthodox perspectives are not welcome. This open-mindedness can be extended to allowing employees to take risks at work and ask questions without fear of retribution.
This generation wants to do things differently and, as employers, there are ways to make the most mundane things – like meetings – more engaging (i.e taking-walking meetings, having 1:1 mental health checks to see how things outside work are going, creating opportunities for employees to come together once a month and have a company-sponsored breakfast or lunch). All these things tell the next generation you, too, are willing to put effort in to meet their needs. Summer hours or flexible hours are also something this generation is looking for, which means employers need to create accountability practices for things like working from home or away from traditional work areas.
Making Change to Keep Talent
As our society changes and new generations dominate the workforce, we have to pivot and change our approach to retain talent. Practical, tangible changes need to take place, as loyalty is not gained so much by a paycheque any more, but by work culture, engagement and investment in employees’ professional growth inside or outside of the company.