The workforce is changing, and quickly. There is the growing shift to what is being called the “gig” or “on-demand” economy, and the rising number of members from both the Millennial generation and Generation Z within the workforce. No change comes without its challenges, but this provides an opportunity to really think about what it means to be an employer or company. In this time, we are being called on to reflect on how our practices are serving us.
We are on the “contentious” forefront where we are often dealing with understanding the changes across industries and engaging candidates that are seeking opportunities in one or more of them. Most companies believe that this is where workforce development steps in and helps employees learn to fit into corporate models and espouse corporate values that have largely gone uninterrogated for decades. By necessity, those of us who are doing relatively well must also have our finger on the pulse of what is new in workplace culture and employee engagement.
One of the biggest obstacles in recent hiring, and one that is sure to grow if we are not creative in our response, is employee loyalty. We rely on loyalty to eliminate arduous vetting processes that cost us both money and time, or money and…well, money. It also functions, however, to allow us to maintain the consistency and integrity of our company vision and the goals that support it.
It used to be that most workers saw themselves as working for a company or companies. However, in this freelance economy, skilled practitioners and technicians view themselves as self employed. So these individuals don’t feel as though they are walking representations of a company’s will and aren’t necessarily committed to anything other than providing marketable services and remaining competitive in a workforce wherein half of all employees will be partially or fully self employed via freelancing within the next seven years.
Another, unfortunate fact is that younger workers don’t trust corporations and Baby Boomer leadership. This affects millennials especially as they are living through their second major economic downturn, the first being the economic collapse of 2008 and the other being the shock COVID-19 delivered to the workforce and many companies. The younger generations view the older ones as having let them down and hoarded wealth to their detriment. This is only bolstered by a strident tone taken in the relationship between Baby Boomers and the youngest generations best exemplified in the conversation around #OkBoomer highlighting the fundamental difference in values, motivations, and means of navigating the world between the Baby Boom generation, which comprises most of the hiring class, and both Millennials and Gen-Z, which make up the predominate and growing portion of the workforce.
So, what do we do? How do we respond?
Remember the key contributing factors that shape the people you are hiring.
Here are some key considerations and possible responses that address them. We trust that you’ll utilize your creativity in implementing and executing them.
Consideration: This is the age of identity, and we’ve seen an increase in individualism. Now, we have more identities and identifying markers than ever, and there is a legitimate expectation that they be honored. This is the time of Black Lives Matter, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, “cancel culture”, the “safe space”, and the polarizing presidency of Donald Trump.
Possible Response: Consider diversity, as it will only ever be your friend. Studies have shown that more diverse workplaces benefit businesses by adding varied perspectives and having people that share experiences with a customer base that is growing in complexity regarding identity. To this day, executive leadership is still overwhelmingly white male, but we live in a country where half of all children in the youngest generation are non-white. Diversity is not only a step in the right direction of beginning to address centuries old inequities, but it is most certainly where the future is going. Not only should the primary workforce reflect varied perspectives, but management and the executive leadership should as well. Disparities, such as income inequality have been pervasive. A recent report by Payoneer says that the gender pay gap is better, but still present in freelancing with women making 84% of what men do compared to 64% in regular jobs. However, it should also be noted that this study was done across several countries, and, at current, freelancing is most widely popular in Europe, Asia, and North America which may grossly misrepresent racial and class categories. All of this is complex to understand and analyze, but diversity is wholly worth pursuing. This will take direct and intentional action to transform hiring practices and create work environments that foster senses of safety and appreciation.
Consideration: The internet is forever; and any and everyone would do well to remember this. The combination of camera phones and social media has made surveilling companies and their representatives easier than ever before. CEOs have had to step down for making inflammatory statements, employees are often fired for their comments on Facebook, and people are now able to share information and have conversations that, at one time, had to be carried out in secrecy. To a certain extent, this does feel like the dystopian level surveillance so many writers have warned us about, however, it has also exposed abusive and derogatory behaviors and beliefs and has been one of the ways that disempowered people have been able to hit back at companies or company representatives that have wronged them.
Possible Response: Remember that a strong online presence is necessary and a means by which to swiftly and decisively respond to and act on transgressions, actual or perceived. Companies that do this are often able to get ahead of viral embarrassment. However, this is not something to fear. Virality can work in a company’s favor as well. Showcase your workforce in their element, provide opportunities for customers and employees to make their voices heard, have fun!
Another thing to consider, regarding social media, is that many Millennials and Gen-Zers have never known a world without Myspace, Facebook and YouTube, and many were very young when Snapchat and Instagram were founded. This has psychological and social implications that we’ve yet to see fully realized, but we can be observant regarding communication styles and the connections formed co-worker to co-worker and worker to company.
Consideration: The things that once motivated those of the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generations, aren’t as big of a factor. Prior to Generation X, the most common view regarding work was that one worked for a company for a certain amount of time and then retired to live out their dreams. Dedication to jobs has been undermined by what, to them, has seemed like a lack of reciprocated loyalty. There is no belief that companies have the interests of the workforce in mind when making decisions. This is also a generation that has lived with the reality that school shootings and other kinds of, seemingly, randomized violence can claim their lives at any time. Younger generations want to live out their dreams now. The inundation of news that seems to suggest that the world is spiraling out of control contributes to a sort of nihilism that has inspired a “live now” or “YOLO” kind of attitude. These are generations more motivated by experience than by things as luxury cars, clothing, and large, permanent homes have fallen in rank for motivators.
These latest two generations are better connected now than ever, however, the strength of those connections are often virtual and the relationships are weaker than those built face to face. This seems to suggest that both financially and interpersonally, people born into these generations need security and stability in many ways.
Possible Response: If over half of the workforce will be participating in the gig economy by 2027, it’s best that companies begin switching to models that will allow for more remote work. Those who already engage in freelance working have stated greater satisfaction, increased feelings of safety, and less stress and workplace induced illness due to working from the comfort of the spaces they’ve created for themselves. For those employees for whom working in a facility is mandatory, find ways of catering to psychological needs for connectivity, security, fun, and future financial security. This could look like providing various kinds of discounts or perks, benefits, and investment opportunities. Luckily, there are apps and programs like Fond and Perks At Work, that can help with managing thousands of perks that employees can get just because they work for your company. Providing programs that facilitate saving and spending management, financial health/literacy workshops, and encouraging early 401K participation are all things that companies are already trying. Invest in your employees.
Remember these generations are not as moved by what has seemed, and has often been, a lack of reciprocity by companies for the loyalty of their parents and grandparents. These individuals are much more apt to take time off for self care. You will want to plan for this.
Lastly, in a world where we are inundated with information about social unrest, various kinds of injustice, and climate catastrophes, it is with increasing necessity that we consider existential well-being. Now, more than ever, it is important to the generations that are dominating the workforce that they be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. As a company, not taking a stance can actually be worse than remaining neutral. While it has not been without its criticisms, companies like Nike and Citi-Trends have taken decisive stances within such conversations as those over Black lives mattering. Here at Infinity One, we’ve done the same. Other companies have run ads featuring gay families and have championed trans and disabled representation. Taking a side is a kind of investment. It says that a company takes certain existences seriously. However, it is important to note that action must follow any of such declarations.
In all, it stands to reason that a radically diverse workforce with different needs and mindsets is necessitating revolutionary changes in the workplace. While the focus has not been misplaced to contribute to the education and training of the workforce, here at Infinity One, we’ve seen a need for workplaces to look inward and develop themselves as well.