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The Coming Shift in the Workplace

October 1, 2009 by Ruth Gmehlin, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

The Upcoming Labour Crisis

We recently attended a local OCRI event where Linda Duxbury, a professor and expert in the field of organizational health, was giving her informative and entertaining presentation on Dealing with Generational Differences in the Workplace. The main message I took away from this presentation is the absolute need for organizations to plan for the impending labour shortage we are starting to face in the Canadian market. For the first time in 45 years, we are moving into a sellers market, and for every two employees eligible to retire, we have less than one employee to take their place. Combine this information with the fact that the current labour market is as diverse as it has ever been with four generations, each with very different life influencers, perspectives and priorities contributing to the workforce. This will not only make administering human resources an extreme challenge for organizations starting up over the next three to 10 years, it will make HR, along with HR policies and procedures to support employees, the critical success factor.

The New Buzzwords

We are also noticing recent trends from working with our clients in the field, which in my opinion reflect the employees response to this upcoming labour crisis, from within.

It is not just about communication, it is about conversation. In other words, there is a real need to get away from faceless, drawn out email discussion threads. More and more people should make an effort to pick up the phone, and schedule a quick get-together to discuss challenges and opportunities face,to face. This would allow people to interact spontaneously in solving business challenges, as well as build out their relationships and networks. The new buzzword tune up expresses a similar sentiment; it is time to have a real conversation with your coworkers. Employees are demanding to have more face to face time with both with their managers and colleagues.

We regularly get called in to work with a team whose main objective is simply to get to know each other better, the challenge being that they do not know where to start. How does this happen, especially when these teams have been working together for weeks, months and even years? It is more common than you think, similar to the way you can carry on an indepth conversation with someone for so long that it seems socially unacceptable to go back and ask for their name.

The Importance of Face-to-Face Meetings

No matter how diverse our workplace is, no matter how advanced our technology has become, no matter how many processes we put into place, and no matter how easy it is to reach one another 24/7 using on-the-go computing devices; at the end of the day we are still human. That is to say, absolutely nothing can replace human contact and a genuine face to face conversation. Whether on a small scale, such as running into a coworker on the way to lunch and taking a moment to chat about on going projects, or on a large scale such as closing that major business deal with a handshake, real human contact is irreplaceable. As the workplace has become continuously more technologically advanced, as we use email, voicemail, video conferencing, web meetings, messaging, or blogging, somehow along the line we have become socially backward and forgotten the power of eye contact, real conversation and spontaneous creativity. Some large companies such as Loblaws and Intel Corp. have declared e-mail free days as one tactic to help address this issue.

Where to Start the Conversation

Nothing can get more basic than a genuine conversation about who we are at work; how we prefer to work, communicate and be compensated, what motivates us, how to achieve work-life balance, and what we are truly passionate about. Only by satisfying these needs and wants can the productivity and creative power of that employee be released to be part of the sustaining force of a company.

The only way to understand what makes your employees feel passionate about their job and be as productive as possible is to ask them. Ask and listen. Extend trust and responsibility, and allow them the ability to influence their work and work environment. In this next era of the sellers market there is no blanket solution, and the ability to customize the workplace to meet each of the employees needs will be key.

Impact on Organizations

With the effects of the labour shortage starting within the next three years, it is important for organizations to start focusing on their people strategies now, to keep their employees motivated, happy and challenged. The key to retention and recruitment is in implementing appropriate human resources programs to support current and future employees as they would like. Make people a priority today!