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Demographic Trends in the Workplace: Adapt or Stagnate

by Bob McCulloch

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch once said, “The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.” Email hacking scandals aside, this is an accurate glimpse into the 21st century business landscape. The new giants will not necessarily be the biggest; rather they will be the fastest. Those that can respond and adapt to shifts and trends will have a significant advantage over those that cannot or will not.

Continual Change

Seismic shifts, both within and outside of organizations, highlight how people want to be employed and how they expect to receive services. My daughter, who is now 17, for instance, has very different expectations with regards to supplier interactions than my wife or I do.

While perhaps a bit of a broad generalization, this demographic expects individualized, customized attention. They want instant communication, answers, and feedback. James Marshall Reilly, founder and CEO of talent management firm The Guild Agency, also notes:

Millennials are very, very conscious of brand image—we want the brands we buy to reflect who we are as people. That makes our purchases very much an extension of our self-image and personal identity.

A brand-centric strategy is no longer tenable, not with these changing expectations and needs.

Embracing Shifting Attitudes

Acknowledging and embracing these changing attitudes, habits, and trends is key to longevity and success as an organization. This will become even more critical as this generation enters the workforce in greater numbers. They hold different views on how work should be completed, and there is a much more prominent social and environmental focus.

Just as younger generations want products they buy to reflect who they are, they want the organizations in which they work to share their values and ideals; to become an extension of their own identities, so they can contribute to work that holds meaning for them.

Jamie Gutfreund of the Intelligence Group says, “Generation Y was raised with a different perspective. Their Boomer parents taught them that their opinions are important. So they have an expectation to have a stake in outcomes.” They are “focused on making meaning, not just making money.”

While this does disrupt the traditional landscape of work, it is also an essential attitude that organizations can leverage. Consumers, as mentioned, want to make purchases that coincide with their beliefs and social mores, and they feel as though they have a “stake in outcomes.” Driven by this awareness, as well as the changing needs of their employees, organizations can more readily adapt.

Water to Wine

This dynamic is playing out in Prince Edward County. Just a few years ago, there were a handful of wineries. Today, there are nearly 40, as well as craft breweries and cider houses. This is a boon to the local economy and to the area’s reputation as an exciting wine-producing region, but consider this: it takes about 29 gallons of water to produce a glass of cabernet sauvignon, according to the Water Footprint Network. This is not at all palatable to many of today’s consumers—especially those who live in or around the area and who must share this valuable resource—or to employees.

So wineries must ask: what is our strategic positioning with respect to handling water? How do we want to come across to our internal and external customers? As profit-hungry, environmental marauders, or responsible stewards of the land? Do we want to be not only good businesspeople—but good neighbours?

If customers care and employees care, then the organization has to catch up and start to maintain their social license to operate.

(And so they have: the Wine Council’s sustainability committee has spearheaded several initiatives designed to minimize water consumption, enhance wastewater disposal, address water-supply issues, and establish best practices for Ontario’s wine industry. )

It is futile to ignore changes in attitude and demographics, or attempt to stop them. To do so is to risk, and accept, obsolescence. The key to surviving and thriving is to make an effort to be aware of shifts, analyze how they will impact your corporate strategy, and move to meet the challenges with flexibility and adaptability.

Bob McCulloch

Bob McCulloch is a recognized authority in providing strategic guidance and executive coaching for tomorrow’s top business leaders. Employing a question-based approach and with over 40 years’ experience, he is able to build strong, trust-based relationships with senior-level executives who are looking to move the needle in their careers from good to great.



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