The Employee New Wave: Generational Differences and Adjusting to Changing Needs in the Modern-Day Workplace
Keeping up with ever-changing employment issues can be a fulltime job for employers, and it is a task that now includes managing generational differences among employees and their work styles. As new generations enter the workforce, they bring with them distinct outlooks and approaches to work.
Different does not mean worse, however, and employers are learning that adjusting to these variations and changing both hiring and retention techniques can ultimately lead to rewarding relationships with their employees.
Younger generations often differ from more seasoned generations in many ways. For example, the former frequently values more flexibility in work schedules. While just as hardworking, they are less likely to embrace a nine-to-five schedule than their older counterparts.
To entice millennials and other younger generations, employers are developing some new and creative techniques to attract and retain valued employees.
To start, work-at-home programs are seeing an uptick in the workplace. While perhaps not practical for some employees, work-at-home programs offer employees the ability to provide quality work while maintaining a balance in their home life.
Other benefits include a reduced commute that lends to more time at home with family, friends, and other extracurricular activities, and working from the comfort of their own homes.
For employers, advantages to providing a work-at-home program can include less overhead, establishing trust with their employees, and even increased productivity as a result of fewer interruptions throughout an employee’s workday.
There are disadvantages as well, such as a lack of collaboration among colleagues. To counter this and still offer a work-at-home policy, employers can designate times that employees are expected to be in the office working together.
Employers should consider establishing policies and expectations for their telecommuting staff. This includes whether and to what extent face time in the office is expected and a reimbursement policy for business expenses incurred by teleworkers.
Other legal considerations can include safety certifications to confirm a safe and healthy workplace as required by the existing law and establishing workers’ compensation policies in the event a teleworker sustains an injury while at home.
Additionally, employers may still be required to provide meal and rest periods and overtime wages to non-exempt teleworkers.
However, keep in mind that in some states, work-at-home policies for non-exempt employees are very challenging to implement without assuming a significant amount of compliance risk. Employers should consult with counsel to establish legally compliant work-at-home policies and ensure that the policies are explained and proactively monitored in case there are any state requirements.
Employers can also offer more flexible work schedules to their employees as another benefit to attract and retain employees. All employees, and especially those just entering the workforce, are motivated by employers who value their time away from the workplace just as much as their time in the workplace.
Affording employees the opportunity to come in earlier or later, or to take a longer break during the middle of the day, may provide employees the much-valued flexibility to manage their work-life balance.
Alternative workweek or flex schedules may also be an option for some employers. These schedules can provide employees with the opportunity to work on the weekends with weekdays off or to work four long weekdays with one weekday off.
Rest and meal periods, overtime, and other employment laws still apply, even when an employee is working a flexible schedule. As with a telecommuting program, flexible work programs should be implemented in a legally compliant manner, as some states may make it difficult for non-exempt employees to take advantage of this benefit.
Employers may also find that parental leave in excess of legal requirements attracts workers from younger generations. While state and federal laws provide some job security, employees of smaller businesses and startup companies may not have such protections.
Some employees are attracted to benefits that provide the opportunity to bond with a new family member for longer than their standard paid-time-off allowances, particularly if they can do so without the risk of losing their jobs.
On the topic of paid time off, employers may be finding that unlimited time off as opposed to a standard, set number of days or weeks per year attracts quality employees. The premise is that if the employee generates an agreed-upon quantity of work or results, it may not matter how long it took to achieve the results.
In that setting, allowing employees to take whatever time off is desired provided the expected results are achieved can make conceptual sense. Among the challenges with the unlimited-time-off concept are compliance with state and local laws regulating wages and hours and those leave statutes requiring the employer to provide the most generous leave in certain situations.
Other paid-time-off options that can be attractive for new employees include extra time off around holidays or paid time off for community service.
Younger generations may tend to navigate toward environments that are less formal and foster more creativity and teamwork. Telecommuting and flexible work schedules are just a few techniques that may attract valuable employees who can help a business thrive.
Among other techniques are sponsored, offsite events that bring employees together in a setting that allows employees to get to know each other in a less formal environment. Bonding opportunities such as these can provide both employers and employees the time to strengthen relationships that can ultimately carry over into a productive and collaborative workforce.
Such events can also double as a recruiting tool for potential workers who see an employer and its employees enjoying a great time together.
Health is and will continue to be a priority for all generations, including millennials. Moreover, in the long term, encouraging wellness is the most effective way to manage future healthcare expenses. Developing a successful career is just as important as maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Employers can attract and retain employees by offering benefits that provide opportunities to foster a healthy environment in the workforce. This benefit can range from a simple offering of healthy snacks and beverages to onsite or offsite gym memberships, sponsorship in activities such as 5K runs, season passes to a ski resort, or a wellness stipend.
Again, it is important to consult legal counsel before embarking on a wellness program as legal limitations exist, ranging from disability discrimination to limits on use of genetic information and potential discrimination based on health conditions.
Employers are finding that these and many other creative techniques are both attracting valuable employees of all generations and helping to maintain a happy, healthy, and rewarding relationship for the employee and employer. No matter the creative perk, an employer should consult with its legal counsel to ensure compliance with state and federal employment laws. BW
Michelle L. DuCharme is an associate with the law firm of Greenberg Traurig LLP. She focuses her practice on litigation and labor and employment matters, representing clients in both state and federal court. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916.442.1111. www.gtlaw.com