PIASC Blog

November 11, 2022

Generational Groups & Work-Life Balance

By Piasc
Generational Groups & Work-Life Balance

When it comes to employment and a multi-generational workforce, both employees and employers who work in a manufacturing facility need to manage expectations. Gen Z and boomers, or Gen X and millennials, each generation has compelling ideas and valid concerns about their workplace.

Examining each generation’s career expectations and concerns will provide our association members with the information needed to create a positive work environment at their company. The goal is to find common ground.

Job satisfaction significantly influences an employee’s mindset and happiness in the workplace. There is a lower turnover rate when employees are satisfied with their jobs. Happy employees are also more productive, which results in higher profits. Unhappy employees have the opposite effect.

Back in the 1970s, we called it Burn-Out. In the 1980s, we first heard about work-life balance. Today, the trend is “quiet quitting” and The Great Resignation. We’ll examine these terms and see what they have in common.

Gen Z and Employment Expectations

The latest group to join the workforce is Generation Z. According to the Pew Research Center, Gen Z comprises people born between 1997 and 2002. By 2025, they will represent more than 25% of the working population. Like all generations, Gen Z’s expectations regarding salary, benefits, and company culture have been shaped by the environment and information to which they have been exposed. However, of all the generations, Gen Z grew up in the age of advanced technology and readily available information (which is not a comment on the quality of the information). This generation has largely been shaped by what they see on the Internet.

Many Gen Zers have seen employees at high-tech companies Instagramming free gourmet meals, in-house massages, and free dry cleaning. And, like many things on Instagram, expectations rarely come close to reality (#instagramvsreallife).

In addition to Instagram, imagine growing up with YouTube and seeing your peers making millions of dollars online. A 23-year-old YouTuber, MrBeast, earned $54 million in 2021—the most of any YouTuber ever. A seven-year-old, who immigrated from Russia with her parents, has 87.5 million subscribers and earned $28 million in 2021. Is it any wonder that Gen Z may have a skewed view of the world of work compared to baby boomers?

Regarding salary, a recent study found that current college students, Gen Zers, expect to make $103,880 at their first job. The hard truth is that college graduates’ average starting salary is $55,260 annually.

While some jobs in the printing industry require a college education, most people in our industry are hired based on their skills and training. The starting pay for a Gen Z non-college graduate is based more on competition from local employers. For example, a high school graduate in California can start working at a local fast-food restaurant making $15-$20 an hour. I’ve seen $18 an hour offered at a car wash. If the employee works a 40-hour week, that’s nearly $37,500 a year. Other states in our association have varying minimum wage requirements that range from $14.49 in the state of Washington to $10.50 an hour in Nevada.

Whether your company is looking to hire a recent high school or college graduate, research shows that a living wage is the number one topic for Gen Z employees. But what are the wage expectations of millennials?

Research shows millennials are also looking for fair pay. Of course, “fair” is in the eyes of the beholder. More than any other generation, millennials say they are experiencing a pay gap. And what do you think about Gen Xers and boomers? Every generation wants to be paid a fair wage. While the younger generation may not yet understand a reasonable salary, they will soon realize what the generations before them have come to know. Training, education, and experience will result in a better-paying job. And employers who refuse to acknowledge the efforts of their employees to improve themselves will soon lose those employees. The Great Resignation is evidence of that fact.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey, March 2022, unsurprisingly showed that pay was the main factor in people wanting to change jobs, with 71% citing it as a critical reason.

Mentally Healthy Workplaces

Gen Zers are also looking for workplaces that are psychologically and emotionally healthy. This is understandable, as the American Psychological Association has identified Gen Z as the most anxious and stressed generation. Their stress has been attributed, in part, to the pandemic. When you discover that fifty-nine percent of young adults experienced unemployment directly or within their households from the onset of the pandemic, it’s understandable that their mental health would suffer.

With COVID-19, most people experienced altered daily routines, financial pressures, and social isolation regardless of age. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Surveys show a major increase in the number of U.S. adults who report symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia during the pandemic, compared with surveys before the pandemic.” So, it’s not just Gen Zers who need a psychologically and emotionally healthy workplace.

Gen Zers also spend a lot of time online, which limits their amount of in-person contact with others and can create feelings of isolation and loneliness. But before we say anything derogatory about Gen Z’s phone habits, let’s look at the other generations.

The research shows that Gen Z spends 5.9 hours daily on their phone. Is that so different from millennials, who represent over thirty-five percent of the worker population and spend, on average, 5.2 hours a day consuming content through their mobile device? And what about Gen X? Seventy-four percent of Gen Xers say that social media is essential to their life. While fifty-two percent say their social media use has increased over the past year, and twenty-nine percent believe it will continue to rise over the next three years. So, while Gen Z may spend a lot of time online, the same is true of the other generations.

Work-Life Balance

Generation X entered the workforce in the late 1980s. Some social experts say that Gen Xers were the first generation in America to utter the words “work-life balance.” Thus, this is not a new subject. In addition to fair pay and an emotionally healthy workplace, when consulted, each generation is looking for flexibility. This may mean leaving the office early once or twice a week to catch their kid’s soccer game. For others, it means working from home one day a week to drive the kids to school or pick them up at the end of the day. And this concept reaches across all generations. While one generation may be more vocal than another regarding work-life balance, everyone wants and needs the ability to balance their work life with their family and personal life.

In addition to flexibility, employees in every generation want to feel that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. Employees are also looking for learning, growth, and career development opportunities.

Adding Up the Score

Businesses that want to attract and retain talent must understand the top priorities of their current and future workforce. While each generation may differ in how they rank their preferences, between the generations, most people are looking for the same thing when it comes to employment.

  1. Fair compensation
  2. Flexibility in hours and location
  3. Prioritized learning and development
  4. Mentally healthy workplaces

Employees’ Top Priorities and the Manufacturing Sector

We acknowledge that all employees of every generation have similar priorities. In that case, the question is, how can a manufacturing facility, like a printing company, provide for the needs of its employees?

Fair Compensation 

  • When discussing fair compensation with employees, your association can help. As a member of Americas’ Printing Association Network, our website provides you access to Minimum Wage RatesWage & Benefit 2021 Survey Job Descriptions, and, if you participate, a copy of the annual Wage & Benefit Survey. With these documents, employers and employees will have clear expectations and goals so wage negotiations can occur fairly and openly.
  • Fair compensation also includes health and medical benefits. Association members in California have access to several health insurance options.

Flexibility in Hours and Location 

Regarding flexibility in hours and location, Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operations suggests many options that can be applied in a printing and manufacturing facility.

  • One option allows first-shift employees to choose their start time between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. When the policy was first implemented at one company, 80 percent of employees decided to keep their 6 a.m. start time, but they felt better about it because they had been given a choice. Employees with young children will see something as simple as choosing whether to come in at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. as a way to improve their working lives significantly.
  • Many retail companies and restaurants allow shift swapping. This flexible perk will enable employees to swap shifts with other employees with managerial approval. Some companies also allow employees to swap split shifts, switching just four hours out of an eight-hour shift. Shift swaps can accommodate medical appointments, family care, and other situations requiring employees to be out during working hours.
  • Another way to provide flexible hours is to offer compressed or short work weeks. Some typically compressed schedules include working 9-hour work days and taking every second Friday off; and working 10-hour work days and taking every Friday off.
  • For many years, printing plants would shut down between Christmas and New Year’s when little or no work was occurring. Try surveying your employees and see when they would prefer the company to take a break.
  • For positions that require a full-time presence, job sharing allows two people to share a position, performing one job. One person might work from Monday to Wednesday and the other from Wednesday to Friday, with a handoff on the overlapping days.

Any flexibility choice is predicated on the function and expertise of the employee team. The smaller the company, the more difficult, if not impossible, some options will be to implement. At the end of the day, a manufacturing company must meet its production requirements to generate sufficient profits to pay workers, cover overhead, and contribute a profit margin to ownership. This gets much more complicated when you consider long-run printing jobs. There really is no alternative, a company either operates profitably, or there is no company.

Prioritizing Learning and Development

Many people find it hard to be motivated when they feel stagnant in their job. And for new or entry-level employees, like Gen Z, training is essential. Employers must offer opportunities for growth so employees can see a pathway for personal development and advancement.

In the past, I’ve heard employers say they will not offer training to employees. The owner reasoned that once trained, the employee would leave to work for another company that would pay more. This line of thinking never made sense to me. If the employee received training and gained new skills, the employee would perform better, the company would benefit, and the owner should reward the employee.

While some training is mandatory, others will instill a sense of pride in an employee and improve production in your facility.

  • All employees should receive First Aid, Safety, and Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Prevention training. Forklift training and certification are mandatory for forklift operators. This can be handled in-house with help from your association and a senior forklift operator.
  • Training for production employees will have a direct impact on the company. Training may include G7 certification, lean manufacturing, or ISO training. This training will create better press operators, reduce waste, and let prospective clients know you take pride in your manufacturing process. Employees will also develop a sense of satisfaction upon receiving certification.

When it comes to training for sales staff, here are some stats that might surprise you.

  • Almost half (46%) of sales reps did not plan on a career in sales.
  • Nearly 70% of salespeople say they have not received formal sales training.
  • For most sales professionals, 84% of their sales training is forgotten within three months. This means training must be ongoing.

If you want successful sales reps, you should know that companies that invest in sales training are fifty-seven percent more effective at sales than their competitors.

Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace

What, exactly, is a mentally healthy workplace? Many items we have already covered are part of a mentally healthy workplace: a fair wage, flexible hours, training, and room for advancement.

According to a study from the Harvard Business Review, most employees, an overwhelming eighty-four percent, reported at least one workplace factor that negatively impacted their mental health. The most common factor was stressful, overwhelming, dull, or monotonous work. In addition, poor communication practices and a low sense of connection to or support from one’s colleagues or manager make for an unhealthy workplace.

  • As with most things, communication is the key to a healthy workplace. Many times we ask people, “How are you?” But we never wait to hear the answer. And, when we do listen, the response should be, “How can I help?” The importance of empathy and authenticity cannot be overstated.
  • It is helpful when an owner, manager, or supervisor pitches in to help with even the most menial job. The old saying is, “I will not ask a staff person to do anything that I am not willing to do.” Actions like this will go a long way in building employee morale.
  • Employers should consider training managers and supervisors to help mitigate stress and unhealthy practices in the workplace. Printing facilities are often faced with deadlines. A job is promised at a specific time for a particular client, and meeting that deadline is stressful. Once the deadline is met, what is the response of the supervisor or owner? Do they move on to the next job, or is there time for recognition and gratitude for a job well-done? If the job was extra stressful, this acknowledgment must be more than a pat on the back.
  • Communication about the company can go a long way in easing employees’ concerns. A monthly meeting with the whole company is a great way to communicate. I’ve seen companies provide employees with treats from an on-site ice cream truck or meals prepared and served by the management and supervisors. While employees enjoy their food or treats, the management reviews information about the company, both good and bad news. Were sales up? Let the employees know. Were there complaints about a particular job? That, too, can be shared. Is the company ahead or behind sales from last year? Actions like these make employees feel a part of the team.

When it comes to employment and a multi-generational workforce, it’s essential to understand that every generation, Gen Z and boomers, or Gen X and millennials, wants and needs a reasonable work-life balance. If an employer is looking to hire and retain a quality employee, paying attention and addressing fair compensation, flexibility in hours and location, prioritizing learning and development, and having a mentally healthy workplace are essential.

About the Author

PIASC is the largest regional graphic communications trade association in the country. They are devoted in helping support members and advocate for the graphics industry. For over 80 years, they have been serving Southern California and now, graphic businesses in the Western U.S.

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