The Emerging Workforce & How Demographics are Changing Business

The Emerging Workforce & How Demographics are Changing Business

By: Lorna Donatone
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How can companies #engage younger workers? Here are key areas to focus on within your organization! @SodexoUSA
Wednesday, February 10, 2016 - 11:15am


The workforce, in the U.S. and globally, is evolving at an unprecedented rate. With the addition of Generation Z, it will soon be five generations strong. While having access to such an extensive pool of talent is an exciting prospect for many employers, managing employees across such a broad range of demographics will require leadership to flex their styles and meet employees where they are.

One of the biggest challenges business will face is the workforce pipeline. As employees from earlier generations retire in greater numbers, leaders are concerned there won’t be enough qualified younger workers to fill their roles. We’ve seen this in the facilities management field. It’s predicted that more than half of facilities management professionals will retire in the next decade, according to our 2015 Future FM Workforce report. But we aren’t attracting younger workers at the same rate: Only 8 percent of the members of the International Facility Management Association are under 35 years old.

To solve pipeline problems, organizations are looking to the emerging workforce. Millennials, those born from the early 1980s until approximately 1995, have been entering the workforce for more than a decade. As their numbers grow, we’ve really seen them put their own stamp on their workplaces. Now we’re seeing the next generation begin to arrive: Generation Z. Members of this generation were born after1995 and they tend to be more realistic and less idealistic. Gen Z is entrepreneurial with 72% of current high schools indicating they want to start a business. They are also accustomed to multi-tasking, are hyper-aware and technology-reliant.  In many cases, these are highly educated digital natives who have the potential to make a major contribution.

For these young and upcoming employees, engagement is critical. Engagement increases employee retention and productivity among all workers and for younger generations in particular, being valued and feeling validated is a high priority. Above all, younger workers need to be able to bring their passion to the workplace in order to succeed.

How can companies engage younger workers? Here are key areas to focus on within your organization:

  • Environment and Opportunities: It’s common to see companies cater to Millennials by creating a very casual work atmosphere, but that kind of environment isn’t a fit for every organization. The truth is that you don’t have to put a foosball table in the conference room to keep your employees engaged. Instead, focus on creating a company culture where employees feel valued and see opportunities to succeed. More junior employees need to be able to share ideas – because their voices matter – whether that’s through formal feedback programs or casual check-ins.
  • Mentoring: People often talk about the differences among generations, but there are some time-honored strategies that still work. Mentoring is one of those. There’s no doubt that mentoring and sponsoring benefits all employees, and having a mentor certainly helped me in my career. For younger employees, mentors are invaluable advocates and guides who can help integrate them into a workplace and learn to successfully navigate business environments. Senior employees who act as mentors can probably also learn a few things from their younger, digitally savvy counterparts. Creating a formal mentoring program at your organization can make it easier for younger workers to connect with those senior to them without feeling intimidated, and vice-versa.
  • Diversity: The workforce is becoming more diverse, and that’s simply a trend that will continue for many decades to come. In fact, Gen Z is the most diverse generation in history and has a more positive view on diversity then prior generations. To attract the best talent and even gain a competitive advantage, companies are promoting inclusion and diversity. But to see real impact in this area requires a long-term approach. Women and people of color don’t just need to see opportunities to succeed within an organization; they need to see other people like themselves who are already succeeding there. We have made progress, but have not moved fast enough, so there are many opportunities – moreover, many requirements – where leaders and organizations can and must make an impact.

In the next four years 30% of Gen Z will enter the workforce.  As they filter in, it is important to start preparing as leaders and organizations now. How is your organization engaging, accommodating, integrating and leveraging this powerful emerging workforce? Share your stories or question in the comments.


Lorna Donatone is the CEO of Sodexo Schools Worldwide and President of Sodexo North America.  Ms. Donatone was honored with the 2015 Trailblazer Award from the Women’s Foodservice Forum and Chairs the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.  She is on the Board of Directors of Jamba Juice, is a trustee of the Culinary Institute of America, serves on the Tulane Business School Council and Chairs the TCU Business School Board.