Is your electrical distributorship flexible and adaptable enough to successfully attract and recruit this sizable chunk of the U.S. labor market?
They make up about 35% of the U.S. labor force and total about 56 million ready, willing, and able employees who are either already working or out there looking for work. Aged 22 to 37 this year, these Millennial workers outnumber their Gen X (of which there are 53 million) and Baby Boomer (41 million) counterparts, making them the largest generation in the nation’s workforce, according to Pew Research Center.
And as if that weren’t enough, the oldest members of the post-Millennial generation (those born after 1996) are now of working age. Last year, 9 million post-Millennials (those who have reached working age, 16 to 20) were employed or looking for work, comprising 5% of the labor force—a number that’s expected to grow as this generation ages, Pew reports.
Not Your Father’s Distributorship
As a whole, employees under the age of 38 are clearly a force to be reckoned with, and one that looks, acts, and feels differently than any generations that came before them. A recent Manpower Millennial report, for example, points out that these employees prioritize money, people, and purpose when looking for (or staying in) jobs.
“With career ultramarathons ahead, Millennials are focused on developing the skills to ensure their employment security and build a ‘career for me,’” Manpower points out, adding that Millennials are “surprisingly upbeat” about their careers. Two-thirds are optimistic about their immediate job prospects, for instance, and 62 percent “are confident that if they lost their main source of income tomorrow they could find equally good or better work within three months.”
Contrary to the lazy label that’s been slapped on their generation, Millennials are working as hard, if not harder, than other generations, according to Manpower’s report. For example, 73 percent report working more than 40 hours a week, and nearly a quarter work over 50 hours. And, on a global basis, 26% of Millennials are currently working two or more paid jobs.
From those jobs, Millennials want three basic things: money, security, and time off. “They want to be rewarded for their effort, feel secure in their employment, and still have the freedom to stop and refuel once in a while,” Manpower states. “They also value working with great people and enjoying the time they spend on the job, together with the opportunity to work flexibly and develop new skills as priorities.”
It’s About Survival
If your electrical distributorship isn’t already addressing these wants and needs in both its recruitment and retention strategies, it could wind up paying the price for these oversights. “The old days of someone working for the same company for 40 years is going to be a rarity,” Eric Borden, president of Pathfinder Consultants, Inc., says. “For distributors, courting younger generations is about survival and longevity.” It’s also about understanding that even the most veteran members of any workforce started somewhere, Borden notes.
Knowing this, he says companies can start by simply learning what makes Millennials tick (e.g., many are extremely conscious of their lifestyles and home lives), and then “ease up a bit” and be willing to relax the rules a little and leave behind age-old, existing organizational disciplines.
“You don’t want to have a Woodstock within your organization,” Borden says, “but you certainly want to make them feel as though they’re important, they’re invested in, and that there is a future for them.”
Thinking Outside of the Box
Based on how they were raised, what they were exposed to, and the opportunities that are put in front of them, different generations have different wants, needs, and demands. Not a big fan of putting people into “buckets,” Borden says the bottom line is that distributors who want to attract and retain Millennial (and soon, post-Millennial) employees will have to adopt a new mindset.
“Find ways to engage these workers and come up with opportunities and packages that will attract them to your company,” says Borden, who encourages distributors to think outside the box—and outside some of the “norms” or ruts that they may have fallen into over the last 10-20 years. You might allow workers to leave work early one day a week to participate in a family or social event, and without invoking the “stink eye” from their managers and/or colleagues, for example, or offer up a mentorship or coaching opportunity to help employees expand their career horizons.
For the latter, you can also make it known that exploring opportunities outside of your distributorship is actually okay, and not looked down upon. “Allow them to develop their career paths without worry over the wrath of the company, should they want to leave at some point,” says Borden. “This is just one of many ways you can support the people who are not just the future of your company, but also the future of the electrical distribution industry as a whole.”
In the second part of this article, we’ll get some expert and distributor suggestions on what steps companies can be taking now to make their workplaces more welcoming and engaging for Millennial and Post-Millennial workers.
3 Ways to Create a More Flexible Workplace
If there’s one thing that all employees like in today’s world, it’s flexible employers. And as more of them request this, distributors have to be able to address those needs and desires. “While not every business can let employees work remotely simply because they want to,” says Bruce Holoubek, president at Contracted Leadership, “there are many things that any employer can do to foster a flexible and accommodating company culture.”
Here are Holoubek’s suggestions for creating a more flexible workplace that appeals to younger generations:
- Use flexible scheduling. While employees may not be able to work remotely very often because they’re needed in the office, allowing them to have some control or input on what their schedule will be for the week can make a big difference. Recently, many businesses have given employees the option of using flex time; rather than working five 8-hour days, some employees will opt to work four 10-hour days on a given week. “This option enables employees to take a three-day weekend without dipping into their vacation days,” says Holoubek, “and they’ll feel more empowered.”
- Create an environment of fun. One other thing that can make the workplace more flexible are elements of quirk, fun, and appreciation. For example, you might give each employee (or department) a certain amount of money to spend on something that would improve the office culture. You can also write notes of appreciation or random thoughts, or give employees small impromptu gifts – like a bag of M&Ms or a $5 gift card to a local coffee shop. “Often rigid cultures are associated with those that suppress fun and freedom,” Holoubek points out, “so showing your employees that you value them as people can make a big difference.”
- Remove restrictions on how your employees work. If your employees need to be in the office, maybe they can complete certain projects from a community space in the office that’s decorated more softly with sofas and armchairs rather than from cubicles or desks. Or, you could suspend the restriction that employees need to wear shoes if they’re at their desk, or while working on projects that don’t involve clients or vendors. This “shoes optional” policy might enhance some employees’ creativity and will also enhance how flexible they perceive the business. The same goes for dress code. “If people can choose what they wear and be trusted to make professional decisions (e.g., wearing business casual attire if meeting a vendor, prospect, or client),” Holoubek says, “they’ll feel more valued and appreciate the flexibility.”