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Different generations, different expectations mean HR challenges

Employee benefits are shifting from the traditional to include more benefits that fall into the personal and quality of life categories. Employees care about how they’re treated by employers. Some observers are finding that to be especially true of Generation Xers.

“This is due in part to the changing demographics of the workforce. There is a much greater blending of generations in the workforce,” said Cyndi Gaudet, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM). “This blending of generations yields a workforce not solely interested in the compensation package.”

LeAnn Thieman, a nurse for 35 years who now writes and speaks full time on the national scene, said employers can retain employees with doses of the kind of care nurses give their patients. She co-authored “Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul, Second Dose,” and feels some of those methods can carry over into other areas of work.

“After ‘Chicken Soup for Nurses’ I was surprised at the way lay people responded,” she said. “Employers are finding it difficult to retain younger employees. With Generation X it’s not just about the salary. It’s much more. Quality of life is important to them.”

Gaudet and Thieman pointed out there’s a growing shortage of workers, a fact supported by the Employment Policy Foundation and projections of the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The data reveals there is a declining number of mid-career workers, fewer younger workers entering the workforce and rapid growth in the over-55 workforce,” Gaudet said. “There is 73% growth in the 55 to 64 age bracket and 54% growth in the 65-plus age group projected for the U.S. workforce for the 2000 to 2020 time frame.”

She noted that it is important for employers to understand the different needs and perspectives of each generation, and that they have the ability to translate these needs in terms of the organization’s strategic goals.

“Organizations retain employees who are engaged at work, meaning they are committed and motivated,” she added. “In Gallup’s 2006 national survey on employee engagement, they found that of all U.S. workers 18 or older, only 26% are engaged at work, unlike their unengaged (55%) and actively disengaged (19%) counterparts.”

Gaudet, who directs the Phillips Workplace Learning and Performance Institute at USM, went on to say that today’s employees need to know what is expected from them at work. Additionally, she feels, employees want opportunities to learn and grow, and they want to know that someone at work cares.

“According to the Gallup organization, almost half of the people who say that their managers do not pay attention to them are actively disengaged from their jobs,” she said. “You cannot retain disengaged employees.”

Mississippi Baptist Medical Systems (MBMS) is one of the state’s employers taking steps to show it cares about employees and wants to retain them. It has an Employee Advisory Committee that meets once a month to address issues related to employee policies, benefits and quality of work life.

“Employees not only think that employers should care about them, they want the employer to show it,” said MBMS spokesman Robby Channell. “Employees want frequent feedback on the good things and bad things that happen in the workplace. Employees crave feedback and recognition on performance as an individual and a team.”

Channell says Baptist’s Human Resource Department is seeing employees’ expectations changing.

“Employees are looking for growth opportunities, a place to work that provides them a sense of belonging, a sense of being part of something worthwhile and an organization that encourages work/life balance for both the well-being of staff and the organization,” he said. “The absence of any of these ‘employee satisfiers’ creates poor productivity, attendance and turnover.”

Baptist provides a number of services and programs to benefit employees’ quality of life, including on-premise fitness center, employee assistance program and educational offerings such as financial planning seminars and coping with everyday stresses.

“We are exploring other services such as oil change, running errands, negotiating discounts for goods and services and other time-saving services,” Channell said. “Also, as a healthcare provider, helping employees live a healthier lifestyle is being explored. While most of these programs regarding disease management will be voluntary participation, our ultimate goal will be to improve the quality of life of employees.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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