LIMA — Though often called lazy, disloyal but, at the same time, innovative, Generation Y is definitely the biggest in the workforce.
As people, mostly employers, lament the loss of the hardworking baby boomer generation, they must also begin to change to accommodate a new, much different generation of workers.
“I think we have experienced a really huge change in the workforce and we really haven’t spent a lot of time talking about or thinking about” it, said Sarah Sladek, CEO of XYZ University, a consulting company that works with organizations to engage different generations.
Today, millenials, also called Generation Y and people ages 18 to 34, are the largest generation in the American workforce, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
The workforce shift happened in the first quarter of 2015 and surpassed the baby-boomer generation last year, because of that generation retiring, according to Pew.
Though many may express surprise at the shift, it’s been happening for a while, Sladek said.
“It’s considered the largest shift in human capital in history,” she said.
And employers need to be aware, and maybe even change some of their practices, to accommodate this younger workforce.
“We have to kind of rethink our work processes and attitudes and all of that,” Sladek said.
Diamond Manufacturing of Bluffton has rethought some of its policies to fit a new generation of workers.
“It’s more difficult for them to see what needs to be done,” said General Manager Gene Heitmeyer, of Generation Y. “We put more processes in place … [and made] documents be more specific of what they have to do.”
The company has made some of its policies more specific when it comes to job responsibilities and accountability, and has documented more processes, he said.
At first, working with Generation Y and millenials was frustrating for Heitmeyer.
“You’re trying to drill into them: You have to be here on time, you have to be able to pass a drug test,” he said. “My first reaction was, ‘What’s wrong with these people?’”
It’s not about the individuals, it’s about a culture change, Heitmeyer said.
That’s exactly what it was, too, said Bonnie Leonhardt, an assistant professor of business at the University of Northwestern Ohio.
Baby boomers and the generation after them, Generation X, were often on their own as children and expected to figure things out for themselves. Now, and when Generation Y was growing up, children were put in organized sports and after-school activities, often being shuttled from activity to activity, and weren’t as often left on their own, she said.
People in Generation X “are kind of better at taking initiative,” Leonhardt said, which may be why the younger workers may need things more explicitly told to them. People in Generation Y “are less likely to immediately know how you go about doing [something]. They haven’t had to figure out things on their own.”
One company that did anticipate that the shift would happen was Vanamatic in Delphos.
In 2003, the company built a new facility and with that, decided to change the way it operates. It made shifts more flexible for its workforce to attract younger workers, said Scott Wiltsie, human resources manager at the plant.
It’s worked, and Wiltsie said about 30 percent to 40 percent of the company’s workforce is Generation Y. For years, the company has had very low employee turnover, a streak he said he doesn’t think it’ll be able to keep going for long.
“With the younger generation there will be more turnover,” he said.
That’s because younger workers tend to “job hop” more often than their predecessors.
“Younger workers tend to be more mobile, which is to say that they are more likely to be willing to change jobs,” said David McClough, an economics associate professor at Ohio Northern University, in an email. “The willingness of younger workers to change jobs more frequently will impose costs on firms when they have to increase wages to retain workers or incur costs to search, select and train new workers.”
Jack Staugler, director of HR at Cooper Farms, has noticed the trend of the workforce getting younger and said he does think the younger generation switches jobs more often.
“I think it’s every company’s responsibility to figure out how do you motivate these guys and what incentives do you bring to them to make them want to stay,” he said. “There isn’t the sense of loyalty you had 40, 50 years ago.”
Don Horstman, superintendent of Ottawa-Glandorf schools, hasn’t seen his workforce getting younger at such a high rate, and also doesn’t think the district will see a high turnover rate no matter what the age of its workforce is.
“I think in education, especially in Putnam County, that tends to not be as true,” Horstman said of people job-hopping. “Once they get here they tend to stay.”
Though turnover isn’t a problem at the district, social media can be.
“When hiring you pay a lot more attention to social media now when you’re doing background checks,” he said. “It’s forced a lot of us to revisit our acceptable-use policies.”
Social media comes into play with a pre-employment background check and sometimes in the classroom. Teachers must have parent permission to post children’s pictures on social media, he said.
BORN WITH TECHNOLOGY
Though there are some adjustments for employers to make when it comes to 20-somethings, the news isn’t all bad. Younger people bring some traits to the table that previous generations haven’t.
They’re adept at technology, often have a global network, are innovative, good at problem-solving and at building relationships, Sladek said.
“They can work very fast, they’re very productive,” she said. “They’re very bright thinkers and very collaborative and community-oriented.”
The fact that they are collaborative may be very helpful in the future, as with the workforce age shift, comes also a hierarchical shift.
“For the first time in history every generation has something to learn and something to teach,” Sladek said. “It’s a pretty monumental situation.”
Traditionally, people with the most experience have the most wisdom and power, but now, the “playing field is beginning to level,” she said.
“Young people have something of value,” she said. “Power should not be the equivalent of experience and age anymore, it should be collaborative.”
Young people value, and are talented at, collaboration, which may be good, because the workforce is changing, and so should the workplace.
“All of the signs are pointing to the fact that if we’re not adapting to this new market we’re going to continue to struggle,” Sladek said. “You’re either changing and you’re growing or you’re doing the opposite … essentially dying.”