Every company knows what it expects from its workforce, but smart companies are paying close attention to what their workers expect from them.
With unemployment at record lows and businesses struggling to find and retain talented workers, successful companies are adjusting to this shift in employee expectations.
It's not just the paycheck that matters to today's workers.
They want to feel value in their work, have decision rights, access to information, and a flexible work schedule.
"If I told you that feeling valued was important 10 to 15 years ago, you'd laugh at me," said John Frehse, senior managing director at Ankura with over 20 years of experience in labor and operations strategy.
"Today it's hugely important," Frehse said Oct. 25 at the Made in Connecticut: 2019 Connecticut Manufacturing Summit.
"You come in, you want to make a difference, you want to improve, you want to do a great job. And someone says, 'just go push the button, stand on the line, put the bag in a box.'
"That’s not what today's workers want. They want to do more.
"And we have two choices. We can say, 'just do your job,' or we can say, 'is there a way to harness all this passion and interest in doing better to drive revenue for the company in a different way?'"
Although it can be a challenge, considering the generational and cultural diversity of today's workforce, it makes sense for companies to understand what their workers want, says Mark Soycher, CBIA's human resources counsel.
This includes Connecticut manufacturers, for whom workforce development remains a major challenge.
In fact, 55% of respondents to the 2019 CBIA Survey of Connecticut Businesses said they have difficulty hiring and retaining young workers and 12% cited the availability of skilled workers as a major factor hampering business growth.
Soycher said employers need to understand that "for a lot of employees, it's not just the paycheck."
"It's the brand people are looking for. They want to have fun, be respected, and be challenged," Soycher said.
"The idealists want a job where they're going to be doing good and they want to see something in the company identity that it is responsible socially and environmentally."
Social Media Presence
To attract talent, companies must have a social media presence, Soycher added.
"It's critical or they’ll never hear from a large segment of potential applicants who only search for jobs online," he said.
But social media also requires vigilance, Soycher notes.
"People are checking you out 24/7, making it critical to monitor what's being posted by current employees, former employees, customers, and clients, which in effect can rebrand your intended message, possibly for worse," he said.
Employers must also keep their staff engaged by communicating with them, Frehse notes.
"We need to talk to our people in a way that shows we respect them and we think they're smart," he said.
"And we need to give them access to information so they can make decisions."
Ankura has surveyed over 300,000 manufacturing employees around the world and found that four of five workers believe decisions are made too high up.
Giving workers the responsibility and information to make decisions engages your workforce and helps your company, Frehse said.
"If you're not pushing facts to your employees, whether it's survey information or what's going on at your company, it creates a vacuum," he said.
"Your employees will find their facts somewhere else—and you have no control over that.
"So tell the truth and push information that's useful to your employees all the time so they can make better decisions faster."
Although millennials drive much of the change in employee expectations, these changes appeal to all workers, experts say.
Surveys show that increased job satisfaction helps retain valued employees.
Molly Hammack, a 22-year-old program coordinator at CBIA, said today's workers want to be valued for what they bring to the table.
"We are the first true digital natives," Hammack said.
"We grew up with personal technology. With this comes an increased ability to multitask, generate new tech-driven solutions, and collaborate with others in ways that has never been possible before.
"These skills help demonstrate our value to older generations in the workplace who might not be as tech savvy or innovative."
When you combine these tech skills with mobile devices, work can be done in a myriad of places, Hammack added.
"This isn't to say that we can accomplish everything we need to remotely, especially if a project is collaborative or face-to-face conversation is necessary, but it does suggest that the old 9-to-5 workday model could use some updating," she said.
Frehse says it's not enough to talk about your company's culture. In the age of Google, any applicant can go to a number of websites and research your company.
"People read about you," he said. "And if they don't like what they see, you don't get a chance to hire them.
"So it's not enough to say you have a great culture—you better have a great culture."
A flexible work schedule is also important today.
One survey found that two-thirds of job applicants don't believe they need to be sitting at their desk to get their work done.
Flexible arrival and departure times are desired, as is the ability to telecommute.
A recent report by San Francisco-based Zapier, which serves small businesses, found that one in four knowledge workers quit because they weren't offered flexible or remote working options.
The survey found 74% of knowledge workers are willing to quit for an opportunity to work remotely.
These workers include programmers, physicians, architects, engineers, scientists, designers, public accountants, lawyers, and academics.
"When life happens and situations arise, you want to hope that your work will be accommodating to your needs to a certain extent, and that is what I think a lot of people are looking for in a job," Hammack said.
Many companies look to attract talent by offering unique benefits, Soycher said.
"What I'm seeing is what's called 'benefits bling.' You jazz up the benefits array with all sorts of stuff to address the short-term wants and needs of the incoming workforce," he said.
These include some highly valued and much needed benefits such as student-loan assistance and paid parental leave.
But some employers are going so far as to offer pet bereavement leave, food delivery, instant access to daily pay, and even online music lessons.
The concern, Soycher said, is that too much emphasis may be placed on short-term wants and needs to get people in the door at the expense of longer-term issues—such as retirement savings.
"Employers have to be careful not to commit too much value to those things," he said, "because if people don't have retirement funds, it will become not only an issue for them but a public issue as well."
Charles Botts III, project director for Career Team, said that what sets today’s workers apart from earlier generations is "an unwillingness to conform to more traditional pathways."
This generation, he says, "is empowered by the idea that I can make work work for me."
This view comes, in part, by seeing how employers treated their parents.
"We saw how our parents were hit by mounting economic pressures and were either easily replaced or let go from their jobs entirely," Hammack said.
"This idea of viewing workers as replaceable has been ingrained in our minds, so we are constantly trying to prove to employers that the skills we possess make us valuable to an organization."
That has led to the rise of ghosting, seen as this generation's response to how employers treated their parents.
Ghosting is when a job applicant never shows up for a scheduled interview, or an offer is made but the candidate never responds and disappears without contact.
Botts spoke at CBIA's The Connecticut Economy Conference in September on recruitment and retention strategies for the millennial generation, covering ways for employers to avoid being ghosted.
Christina Semenza, group talent acquisition manager for Enterprise Holdings Inc. said companies must see value in their job applicants and treat them accordingly.
"It's definitely a proactive approach," she said. "We contact every single applicant, whether we're going to move forward or not.
"Our candidates are our customers."