Cultivate Future Leaders

Adapt your policies to appeal more to younger workers.

January 1, 2011

As the recession rains on through 2010, we’ve learned to turn some economic challenges into opportunities.

Perhaps your credit union has increased member loyalty through responsible lending and humane collection practices. Maybe your community recognizes the advantages credit unions offer over banks.

This also is a chance to build stronger working relationships with the “twenty-somethings” who’ll be your credit union’s future managers and supervisors.

About one-fifth of the civilian work force is in its twenties, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This group is breaking old trends that used to mark the transition from youth to adulthood.

In some respects, members of this group are more independent than their baby boomer parents because they marry and have children later in life. They’re more mobile, and they usually change jobs multiple times before age 30.

On the other hand, many depend on parents for financial support, and their rate of unemployment is appreciably higher than the already elevated national average.

The opportunities associated with employing this group come in many forms. Given your need to get the most for every dollar spent and their tendency to job hop, look for ways to maximize your investment in hiring and training by increasing employee retention.

You can do so by:

• Updating your dress code. Members’ ideas about appropriate workplace attire have changed the same way your employees’ ideas have changed. This doesn’t mean “anything goes.” But it does suggest that your branches could be energized by allowing a reasonable amount of personal expression.

Does a purple streak in someone’s hair mean he or she can’t count cash quickly and accurately with a smile?

• Fostering work-life balance. Policies like “personal time off,” which give employees more autonomy (and responsibility) in managing vacation and sick time, can help attract and retain employees while improving attendance.

Liberal unpaid leave policies and tuition assistance programs are magnets for this “quarter life” group that’s finishing formal education later than their parents did with high student debt levels.

• Forming workplace teams comprised of staff from all age groups to foster innovation and create better products, services, and marketing.

This can cultivate mentoring relationships between experienced workers and new recruits. Talented leadership is required to make this work because various age groups have different characteristics that conflict in some ways.

Twenty-somethings prefer “coaches,” even though their older supervisors have often been trained as “bosses.” They want to actively participate and see how their work makes a positive impact. Digital technology is their constant companion.

Lately, tension has arisen from the late retirement of baby boomers whose life savings and other assets lost value in this recession. Some gen X and gen Y workers have grown resentful at the perceived lack of advancement opportunities caused by this phenomenon.

Smart employers motivate staff with cross-training, promoting from within as much as possible, and rewarding good performance with raises, benefits, and flexible working conditions.

All of these strategies must be considered and implemented without violating state and federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of age. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act forbids age discrimination against people who are 40 years old or older. Some states, however, have laws that protect younger workers from age discrimination, too.

• Ensuring that your policies and practices are truly age-neutral and uniformly enforced is crucial for legal compliance and good morale.

One more thing to keep in mind as you try to engage employees: no job has to be boring. Having a little more fun at work can be good business.

Your members will notice and appreciate the extra spark of energy and excitement, and you just might retain a few more of those twenty-somethings in whom you’ve invested training and development.

KAREN SAUL is of counsel at Farleigh Wada Witt, Portland, Ore. Her practice focuses on employment law.