On May 25, 2022

Care and treating of young professionals

The events of the past two years have transported all of us to what seems like a different planet, leading many of us to reconsider the very purpose of our lives — including why, how, where, and with whom we work.

This is especially true for Millennials between the ages of 19-39, and their slightly older counterparts, Gen-Xers between the ages of 40-56. The need to attract, mentor, and retain essential talent has never been more crucial, and it has been debated in every form of media.

From Harvard Business Review: “Unsettled by the pandemic, workers…find ourselves considering our jobs with fresh perspective. Do we really like our employers’ culture? Do we feel that we’re fairly treated and have the advancement opportunities we want?”

From LinkedIn: “Younger workers are most inclined to sacrifice money in pursuit of a better work environment.” From The New York Times: “After the pandemic, a revolution in education and work awaits.”

From Lorraine Jenne, president of the board of directors of the Green Mountain Human Resources Association, who noted recently: “A tight labor market has given workers more leverage…labor supporters see the beginning of an emboldened labor movement.”

As a Boomer who had the privilege of becoming a college professor after 25 years in private-sector management, I learned through many mistakes how to attract, mentor, and retain high-potential workers. Many of them were decades younger than me, so I was constantly learning.

And, I still am.

A Rutland Millennial who is a leader in our region recently wrote to me about this in confidence.

“Managers need to understand that my generation [prioritizes] family and better work/life balance,” she said. “Work is important, but nothing is more important than my health and happiness.”

Another Vermont Millennial cited with great enthusiasm her myriad personal and professional responsibilities. At a recent seminar sponsored by Rutland Young Professionals, she advised, “There are thousands of ways to volunteer [but] always make sure the areas you are agreeing to help are causes you love.”

Vermont is not alone, of course, in its challenges of attracting talented workers. I recently returned from a trip out West, and in small towns from Montana to Arizona, there were numerous empty storefronts, “Help Wanted” signs, or “Closed due to staff shortage” notices. I enjoyed friendly conversations with young workers I met along the way and read dozens of articles about the worker shortage.

Here are several insights and ideas to consider in attracting, mentoring, and retaining talented employees, especially Gen-Xers, Millennials and the newest generation, Gen Z (1997-2012).

Young professionals care about more than money. Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are high priorities for younger professionals, and selective applicants ask more pointed questions about these and other issues than previous generations ever dared.

Other high priorities employers should be ready to discuss:

  • Accurate job descriptions and application processes – for example, detailing “…other duties as assigned;”
  • Opportunities for advancement and learning;
  • Rate of turnover, and expectations about overtime; Work/life balance commitment;
  • Opportunities for engaging in civic activities

Vermont state and regional organizations have launched several ambitious initiatives to recruit and retain workers. Governor Scott’s “M.O.V.E. to Vermont” campaign has been updated, and the Vermont State College system is boosting its workforce development program. In addition, there are daily positive updates about the influx of refugees to Vermont who want to live, work, and raise families here. Rutland’s Chamber and Economic Development office (CEDRR) has a robust concierge campaign. All are invaluable resources to employers who need to attract, mentor, and develop essential workers.

Hiring managers should frequently review online profiles of their high-potential employees as well as those of prospective candidates. Professionals at every level are posting their work, mission, vision, and values — via LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, and Tik-Tok.

Asking candidates to provide extensive creative or strategic presentations in a “job interview” is not acceptable.

It is unfair to candidates, and risky for a company’s reputation.

Workers of all ages expect a clearer delineation between their work roles and their private lives. Covid quarantine blurred those lines but led to increasing demands for remote options. Many professionals have also generated consulting work, augmenting their current salaries and skills so they become more competitive.

Job-hopping is not the resume scourge it used to be. Workers are being encouraged to formulate an exit strategy for every job, as if it were a consulting engagement. In so doing, they glean competitive ideas and insights they can use as leverage — in performance reviews, discussions about raises, and other perks.

Any sentence that begins with “…when I was starting out in the corporate world, we were expected to…” tags a leader as out of touch. To Millennials and Gen-Z, such pontificating signals disrespect about the myriad responsibilities they have outside of work.

Setting clear expectations about internships or volunteer positions is crucial. Young professionals value opportunities to contribute but they do not respond favorably to demands that they work the same schedules as paid staff, or with the same sense of urgency.

When workers at any level leave an organization, they expect managers and colleagues to be respectful. Boomers sometimes forget that social media is a 365-day, 24/7 viral beast. Even an email that has the slightest bit of vitriol toward its recipient, has the potential to resurface.

To attract, mentor and retain valuable talent, seasoned leaders — whether corporate managers, small-business owners, nonprofit directors, educators, or retirees championing a cause — must understand, value, and respect all colleagues.

Tactics like lecturing, scolding, or preaching about “…when I was starting out…” are no longer acceptable. In fact, for some young professionals, that’s literally ancient history — about a completely different planet than the one we all inhabit now.

Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA, is Principal and Owner of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, L3C, based in Rutland, serving charitable and educational institutions, lizdimarcoweinmann.com.

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