Engage Younger Generations in the Success of Your Business

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More than five years ago, Haydn Shaw wrote, “This is the first time in American history that we have had four different generations working side-by-side in the workplace: the Traditionalists (born before 1945), the Baby Boomers (born 1945-1964), Gen X (born 1965-1980), and the Millennials (born 1981-2001).” Today, many of the Traditionalists have retired, but now Generation Z is entering the workforce (born mid-1990s to mid-2000s). For many smaller family-owned businesses, the Traditionalists are still involved in the business from at least a leadership perspective. Their legacy is felt throughout the business. This creates situations where five different generations could be working together.

Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, and Gen X are working hard to pass on their knowledge to the younger generations, not only in family businesses, but in any workplace environment. These generations may feel that the younger generations are not as engaged as they are or even were at their age. Generational conflict is not new, but technology is segmenting the generations faster than in the past, creating more differences between the groups than
at any other point in time. There are many things seasoned leaders can do to engage these newer workers. Some are more concrete, like compensation, and some are the less tangible side of what motivates a person, like schedule flexibility.

Engagement Motivation
What motivates a person to be engaged at work? Does this remain static for someone’s entire life? Not only do workers’ motivations change as they age, but there are also the generational differences at play. The first thing seasoned leaders can do is work to open their minds to see things from these different perspectives. They can think about how much they have changed in their own lives and then factor in changes in culture overall.

Engagement efforts may include some of the following:

Assign them a project.
Younger generations have grown up around immediacy. They want to be involved, but like seeing results in the short-term. Find a project for them to lead that offers quick gratification that you can build on over time. One project to consider might be to increase your organization’s social media presence. Social media’s impact is substantial and here to stay.

Let them make a difference.
With the immediacy mindset, newer workers want to start making a difference right away. Don’t wait to start assigning them projects or jobs that have a clear outline of how it is helping the business succeed.

Encourage philanthropy/community.
Along the lines of making a difference, the younger generations want to see their impact in the world outside of their jobs. Reward those efforts. If your company doesn’t have a current system for giving back as a group, put the younger employee in charge of developing ideas for it.

Provide recognition.
The trophy generation is a well-used saying, but most people do want to be recognized for their efforts on some level. Find ways to give constructive feedback more often.

Offer education and networking opportunities.
Investing in the education and success of younger employees will lead to more loyalty and engagement. Show you care about their success.

Offer flexibility.
Technology has given employees the ability to work from anywhere. This may not be as true for those solely involved with installing a wood floor, but when possible, consider allowing employees the flexibility to have more control over when they accomplish their work.

Expect movement.
Younger employees are used to movement. They move from one job to the next without any hesitation. Anticipate this as a possibility, but don’t let it keep you from investing in them. An engaged employee for two years is better than an employee who stays for 10 years but is never engaged with your organization. Companies that invest in their employees typically see reduced turnover. Additionally, think ahead to ways you can move them from within your own company. Give them a path and they are more likely to get engaged and stick with you.

Set clear objectives.
In addition to supporting their career paths, set clear objectives and direction. Hamilton Bradshaw CEO, James Caan, says, “Everybody wants to do something they feel gives them purpose, something rewarding and worthwhile. How are they supposed to experience this if they don’t have clearly set out objectives to help them get there”?

Give them cold, hard cash.
Money motivation varies, but we all need to pay our bills. You would be hard-pressed to find a person who does not appreciate financial recognition on some level. Never pass up a chance to use that as a tool for engagement when possible. Look into the book, The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack. Stack’s book describes a flailing manufacturer that came back from the bottom by giving employees transparency and a stake in the outcome, causing them to think more like owners. This can be achieved by implementing incentive plans that are tied to the performance of the company like phantom stock plans, profit sharing plans, and issuing performance stock options.

Implement golden handcuffs.
You worked hard to create a loyal employee and want to add more financial incentive to keep it that way. Consider golden handcuffs. These are benefits that typically adhere to a vesting schedule that requires the employee to stick around for a number of years or risk forfeiting the benefits. An example of this could be as simple as establishing a five-year “cliff vest” for an employer match within the company 401(k). In this example, if an employee were to leave the company before their 5-year work anniversary, they would forfeit all of the matching dollars the company had put in on their behalf. A financial adviser can provide you with options for golden handcuffs.

Establish an ESOP.
An employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) is an employee benefit plan designed to tie employees as owners without giving them full ownership. Employees will be more engaged if they can directly see the fruits of their labor through an ESOP. A financial adviser can provide you with options for ESOPs.

NWFA Member Resources
NWFA has worked during the recent years to develop programs to reach younger members and fill the skilled worker shortage.

Here are a few that you could tap into within your organization to further engage your employees:

NWFA University
NWFA created this online source of education in part to engage those that prefer an online education experience and to help bring more people into the industry. In less than two years, more than 40,000 courses have been completed online with NWFA University.

NWFA Emerging Leaders
NWFA Emerging Leaders are young wood flooring professionals of all business types who portray an unmatched work ethic, attention to social consciousness, and strive to uphold industry standards for generations to come. They will help shape our industry for future generations.

Hardwood Floors 40 Under 40 Awards
The awards shine the spotlight on 40 industry professionals under the age of 40 whose career accomplishments have moved them to the forefront. This year’s winners will be announced in the Dec./Jan. issue of Hardwood Floors.

Partnership with Gary Sinise Foundation
NWFA supports the Gary Sinise Foundation R.I.S.E. program (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment), which builds custom, specially adapted smart homes for severely wounded veterans and first responders throughout the U.S. Members can get involved with homes being built in their own communities. By the end of this year, 68 specially adapted smart homes will be completed or underway.

Conclusion
The bottom line is we all want to be successful in life. The challenge isn’t creating that desire for success. The challenge is learning to engage and ignite that fire in the right ways across all generations. You typically can’t change the perspective of a person, but you can learn to appreciate them and combine strengths to work together more productively. Combining and recognizing each other’s strengths will help create a strong company culture that is worth an employee’s engagement.

Bree Urech-Boyle is Chief Financial Officer at the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis. She can be reached at bree.urech-boyle@nwfa.org.

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