Generation Why: The Attitudinal Shift Uniting Today’s Workforce

March 29, 2017 | Lori Sylvia | SmashFly
Share This

In Talent Acquisition, when we say it’s getting harder than ever to hire, it’s not just an understatement – it’s far too simplistic.

Recruiters talk about low unemployment, a skills shortage and high competition for talent. The C-suite talks about labor market conditions affected by the economy, trade, education and immigration. Yes, recruiting is tough, and yes, candidates have more choices than ever. But if it was as simple as supply and demand, wages would be rising faster. No, there’s something deeper, more personal going on.

It’s an attitudinal shift about work, jobs and employers that spans generations and demographics. It’s the emergence of what we call Generation Why.

Generation Why

There are three generations currently in the workforce: Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials (the new name for what was previously called Gen Y). Of course, each generation has different views, values and beliefs that shape how they live their lives. While there may be generational differences, there is one powerful commonality: what people expect from work is as unique as the individual, and it is continuously changing throughout their lives. 

Generation Why – everyone currently in the workforce, describing the attitudinal shift that each person has his/her unique reasons for working, and that people choose an employer based on the company’s answer to “why” someone should choose to work there.

In Talent Acquisition, we have broad perspectives about each generation that can shape our strategies. We talk about Millennials job hopping, yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that Baby Boomers changed jobs in their twenties just as frequently as Millennials do. We cite figures like 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring each day, yet the Associated Press found that 42% of Baby Boomers are delaying retirement, and 25% claim they will never “retire.” The accelerated pace of change across the world and technology isn’t changing each generation – it’s changing people.

People have different reasons for why they work, when they work, where they work and with whom. On the surface, it may seem that the reason why someone chooses a particular job at a particular company is for its salary, benefits and opportunities for advancement. While these reasons for choosing a job are undeniably important, they’re not the only factors that matter anymore. People now want to align their “why” with their employer’s “why.” What does this mean?

There’s More to Work Than a Job

Today’s candidates expect more – to work with people they like and respect, to work in an environment they enjoy, to work for leadership that empowers and inspires them, to continuously learn and grow, to have the flexibility for work-life balance, to support their health and wellness, to have influence, to be a part of something bigger that makes a difference, not just in their community, but in the world.

How many times have you heard someone say they chose a new job not because it was the highest paying offer or it had the shortest commute, but because they really connected with the people they met, or they could take advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement benefit, or they’d have the opportunity for travel? How many times have you made a similar choice in your own career – or wanted to?

People no longer agree to work for a company — they choose to work with a company. And the company that a person chooses to work with is just as, perhaps even more, important than the job itself. Which company someone chooses to work with will either support what’s truly important to that individual at that time in her or his life, or will become an impediment to reaching their personal goals and happiness.

Leading With Brand

To make such an important choice, a candidate must transparently and authentically understand an employer’s mission, culture and values in order to answer a crucial question: Why would I work there at this point in my life?

The search for answers to this crucial question is why candidates consult many sources along the candidate journey. It’s why candidates come to an interview asking more questions about the company than the role itself. It’s why they scour review sites like Glassdoor. And it’s a question that’s continually asked after joining a company, to decide whether the company remains the right fit as their personal lives change.

Generation Why isn’t looking for just a job and the paycheck it provides; they’re open to hearing about a new company, to see if working there aligns with their personal purpose, their reason for working, their “why.”

I’ve seen Generation Why in my own circle. A vegan who chose a supermarket because she believes in the wholesome products it sells. A mother who chose a clothing store because the shift flexibility lets her be home after school most days. A carpenter who chose a home remodeling contractor because the projects let him hone his craft in finish work and they reimburse for new tools. An accounting professional who switched industries so he didn’t have to work on Saturdays.

The reason why someone chooses to do that job for that company at that time is a personal decision. It’s not because they are a Baby Boomer or a Gen Xer or a Millennial, and whatever other generalities we make about people; rather the reason is unique to the individual.

Forget Active and Passive, Think Open

Not understanding this attitudinal shift is a key reason why so many companies have broken Talent Acquisition strategies. Talent leaders are concerned about the growing number of unfilled jobs and the increasing cost and time to hire. But many don’t understand the root cause. People have changed, and Generation Why expects something different from work .

There are no more active and passive candidates. Everyone is open. Open to what?  Four out of 5 Glassdoor users are open to better opportunities. To a new situation or opportunity that could be a better fit for their life and their goals. Yet most recruiters are still spending the majority of their time and budget pushing jobs rather than anticipating the “whys” and answering them in a proactive, compelling way.

So what should Talent Acquisition do? To successfully hire Generation Why, you have to become brand-led, not job-led. Think person-to-person. Personalize to the max. Look beyond simple labor trends and generational generalizations. Lead with marketing your organization’s culture and mission. Focus on building and deepening relationships with the right people who fit before you’re hiring and before they’re “looking.”  Proactively answer the crucial “why” question in every recruiting channel and at every touchpoint in the candidate journey to connect with people in a uniquely personal way – and gain a real advantage in hiring and retaining talent who will help your business thrive.

To learn more about Generation Why and how you can activate an employer brand that speaks to them while creating business value,  check the recorded webinar from SmashFly and The Muse, “Ready, Set, Activate! Bring Your Employer Brand to Life.”