Dispel the Irrational Conversation Regarding Younger Workers and Tight Labor

Bart Castle SPHR
May 28, 2008 — 1,627 views  
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At a recent conference, a roomful of attendees in a production industry lamented the state of their industry. Speaker after speaker during a roundtable session decried the difference in values of younger workers and the lack of available candidates of any age. The session prompted a number of thoughts regarding the challenges presented by multi-generational workplaces and low unemployment. Rather than spending time wringing one's hands or complaining about the challenges, consider the following while devising a more effective and productive response than that which I observed.

1.       Talk candidly with older workers about how irrational the notion is that younger workers are not as dedicated to their work as older workers. Should one take from that opinion that younger workers come to work desiring to be unsuccessful? The fact that younger workers have a different work style (in many, though not all, cases) is very different than saying that such workers are not dedicated to their jobs.

2.       Rather than describing younger workers' desire for greater work/life balance as a lack of dedication, ask workers making such comments if the desire for work/life balance might represent a rejection of the excessive work practices of previous generations rather than lack of dedication.  If that is the case, could that desire for balance have been borne out of observing the lack of balance in previous generations?

3.       As workers lament the lack of loyalty present in today's workers, remind company leaders and managers that the American workplace has changed. American businesses have been very slow to acknowledge this fundamental change. Today, and likely for the foreseeable future, if not permanently, the business of selling or merging businesses is itself a big business. Such sales are common and often result in layoffs as a method for increasing profitability by decreasing or eliminating duplication of resources. Employees, especially younger employees, who have watched their parents get put out on the street despite unyielding loyalty, understand the need to manage their own careers rather than devote themselves without reservation to their employers. Ironically, rather than decry such wisdom, employers might be better suited to question the judgment of employees who have chosen to remain naïve regarding the change in the environment. Employees with such naiveté may be more loyal. However, they are often also more resistant to change and more insistent that the employer adapt to circumstances like higher fuel prices in order to take care of the employees.

4.        While it is true the number of workers available will be declining, what has the organization implemented to increase the number of quality applicants? Is the organization's response to the question, "We now use Monster or some other internet source?" If that is the entirety of the organization's consideration of innovative recruiting methods, it simply is not enough. Today's changing workplace demands the most creative thinking an organization's leaders can muster. Creative employers are involved in such creative processes as working directly with school districts to reach high school students with their message, either to begin planting the seed or actually to begin a process which will conclude with the hire of the student.

5.       Challenging times also demand an honest evaluation of current management policies and practices. Are leaders leading effectively or dismissing potentially capable employees because it feels easier to simply start over? While some workers will not meet expectations and must be dismissed, a great many others end up being dismissed or leaving because an impatient or unskilled manager chose not to do the hard work required to develop an employee. Before bemoaning the absence of effective external candidates, organizations need to make certain they are exercising effective leadership of current employees.

While nothing presented here is magic, challenging times historically make clear the real character of an organization. Sometimes what is revealed, we would rather not see. Younger workers have the same drives to be successful as older workers. Those drives typically express themselves in different ways, however. Also, the world has changed. Have we, as an organization, changed to keep pace, including in the way we train leaders? While the gaps in an evaluation may be embarrassing, each provides the possibility for growth.

Bart Castle SPHR

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Bart W. Castle, of the Sapio Group, LP, has been involved in virtually all facets of human resource management over the past two decades.