Know the generations and focus on company culture

ORLANDO, Fla. — At a time when companies are challenged to find and retain good employees, the answer is likely to come down to identifying and meeting the needs of Millennial and Generation Z workers, who soon will represent the majority of the U.S. workforce.

That was one of the key takeaways from a Fireside Chat between Jaime Zepeda, executive vice president of Best Companies Group and Kelley Kenner-Patridge, vice president and chief people officer at Nationwide Marketing Group, speaking at Furniture Today’s Leadership Conference.

“By 2025, Gen Z and Millennials will make up 60% of the workforce,” Zepeda said. “They are different than previous generations, and they think about company loyalty in very different ways.”

To be successful attracting and retaining these emerging powerhouse generations will require an increasing focus on company culture, a term that is often misunderstood. Despite the common perception of “culture” being defined by things like free snack bars, nap pods and game tables, the reality is actually quite different.

“Culture is defined by how you hire, fire and promote,” said Zepeda.

And for Millennials and Gen Z, the last portion of that is actually among the most important.

Kenner-Patridge noted for example that Millennial and Gen Z workers are goal-oriented, pragmatic and very interested in what it takes for them to grow and advance in the companies to which they commit. The frequency of communication between managers and subordinates that was considered the norm for previous generations needs to be ramped up significantly to attract and retain younger workers.

“We think we are communicating, but we’re not communicating enough,” Kenner-Patridge explained. “These younger workers value transparency. They want to see there is a plan for them.”

Zepeda, whose position at Best Companies Group provides perspective across hundreds of companies and myriad industries noted that frequent conversations around advancement are critical for Millennial and Gen Z workers. “We have a great deal of data that shows there is a correlation between better retention and the frequency of communication around advancement.”

Kenner-Patridge noted that it’s not enough to simply talk about paths to advancement, it’s just as important to have processes and systems in place that formalize this effort and identify those who are best able to make these advancements. She explained that it’s important to identify your high potential people and engage them in formal way to support and direct their career development.

“You need to bring people together to provide leadership coaching to those who will move up one level, or even more,” she said. “It’s important to take the time to understand who you have in your organization. It’s not one size fits all.”

This is particularly true when recruiting in an environment of employee scarcity. She explained that this may require thinking about open positions in new ways and being creative when thinking about what it takes to fill them.

“Are there jobs that you can create or modify that might allow you to attract someone on an other-than-full-time basis,” Kenner-Patridge posed. “Maybe there is a person who has a block of time during the day and could be effective for you. Is there a job you can modify?”

As lifestyles change with the generations, Millenial workers, and specifically those at the upper age range, have become a “sandwich generation,” having to deal not only with challenges around child rearing, but also around elder care.

“Anything around elder care is making a big difference today when it comes to benefits,” Zepeda explained. “Your benefits should mirror your values.”

And just as they are thinking frequently about how to advance in their career younger workers are already thinking ahead to retirement and weighing the relative value of companies’ 401K plans to determine where they go and how long they stay.

The key, according to the two HR experts, is flexibility, understanding that today’s and tomorrow’s workers are thinking about employment and their career in different ways, and those companies that want to be successful going forward will need to do the same.

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