Grocers Must Determine Millennial Employees' Motivations

Grocers Must Determine Millennial Employees' Motivations
Among the issues important to Millennial and Gen Z employees is work-life balance

Sure, much has been made of Millennials – and, right behind them, the emerging Gen Z cohort – but what does their presence in the workplace mean for the retailers who’ll be hiring from their ranks in ever-growing numbers?

Margi Prueitt, executive director of the Produce Marketing Association’s Center for Growing Talent, in Newark, Del., puts the case succinctly: “By 2025, Millennials will make up 75 percent of the U.S. workforce, and unlike Boomers, they work to live, not live to work. Most companies’ HR strategies are designed for Boomers, not Millennials.”

Amanda Nichols, senior manager, industry marketing, retail and hospitality at Lowell, Mass.-based Kronos Inc., a provider of workforce management and HCM cloud software solutions, explains the demographic’s mindset in more detail.

“Millennials and the up-and-coming Gen Z workforce have watched their parents and older siblings struggle to find their passion at work, and many have gone the opposite direction,” observes Nichols. “They … don’t expect work to fulfill all their hopes and dreams. As a result, work-life balance is critical to them: A new survey by The Workforce Institute at Kronos (“The Case for a 4-Day Workweek”) found that one in four retail employees would even take a 20 percent pay cut to work one day less per week.” 

This attitude has led to some unique employment strategies. She adds: “When it comes to recruiting and retaining an effective workforce, many retailers are realizing the need to put programs in place to improve work-life balance. Some are even embracing the rise of the gig economy, which has ushered in new questions and ideas about what it means to be an ‘employee.’ It’s essentially paved the way for individuals seeking an equal balance of work flexibility and employer predictability. Neither full-time, part-time or gig, many modern workers want ultimate flexibility to pick when and how they work — but they still want the security of working for an established company that puts its people first.”

One new type of associate is the “occasional-time” worker. “This employee wants their job to work around their lifestyle, not the other way around,” notes Nichols. “And while, at first, it may sound like an unreliable method to fill schedules, the occasional-time worker actually represents an opportunity for grocers to flex their staff up with trained and vetted employees. This could be especially valuable in a tight labor market, or during peak seasons when managers struggle to fill busy shifts. While traditional full- or part-time associates will generally cover most shifts, any remaining hours could be opened up to a large pool of occasional-time workers to self-select the open shifts most compatible with their lives and schedules.”

This hiring practice can be beneficial to company and workers alike, she believes. “By considering alternative scheduling strategies and implementing an intelligent workforce management solution to optimize individual preferences, availability and schedules, grocers have an opportunity to retain valued talent and meet demand, all while empowering their staff by catering to the modern expectations of Millennial and Gen Z workers,” says Nichols.

A Higher Purpose

Whatever you do, however, don’t take these employees for granted.

Millennials and Gen Z employees more than any other generation, have the ability to vote with their feet and often do,” cautions Carol Leaman, CEO of Waterloo, Ontario-based Axonify, a B2B software-as-a-service company and provider of microlearning solutions. “They’re looking for employers to actively develop their skills and abilities in a short timeframe, and if they don’t feel that their needs for advancement and improvement are being met, they move to the next opportunity.  As a result, grocers need to focus on providing individual support and positive overall experience to associates that make them feel like the company is invested in their progress and success.”

Meaningful mentoring, trust, flexibility and work-life balance: These are qualities members of the Millennial generation value — and women seek — in today’s workplace,” agrees Sarah Alter, president and CEO of Chicago-based Network of Executive Women (NEW), a women’s leadership organization serving the retail, consumer goods, financial services and technology industries. “These future industry leaders, who now comprise more than one-third of the U.S. population, also desire to devote their work energies to a higher purpose, to something more than simply a paycheck.”

Alter then goes on to add an important new detail to the by-now familiar portrait. “Don’t misread Millennials, though,” she counsels. “They are ambitious, work hard, and are eager to learn and grow professionally.”

An example cited by Alter: “Early-career women, in particular, place a high importance on opportunities for workplace advancement – it’s the top trait new-gen women look for in an employer, according ‘The Female Millennial: A New Era of Talent,’ a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.”

“Employers cannot afford to dismiss workstyles that combine ambition, drive, and hours working at home or the local café, or employees who push for more diverse leadership teams,” she adds. “With the first cohort of Millennials only in their mid-30s, most members of this generation are will drive the economy and rule the workplace, the marketplace and every place for decades.”

What’s more, the strategies that retailers adopt for Millennial and Gen Z workers can apply to all associates.

“At the end of the day, the workplace formula for the future comes down to understanding that all employees’ — not just Millennials’ — personal lives and work are intertwined,” says Alter.

Leaman agrees, noting that “regardless of age, people need support and motivation to do their best work. When it comes to training, grocers must meet associates where they are and provide the right support at the right time.”

About the Author

Bridget, Progressive Grocer

Bridget Goldschmidt

Bridget Goldschmidt is Progressive Grocer's managing editor. With nearly two decades of experience at PG, Bridget has covered major food industry developments on key topics, including government affairs, mergers and acquisitions, category trends, e-commerce, health and wellness, corporate responsibility, and the ongoing transformation of the world of food retailing and foodservice. She has been quoted in The New York Times and other prestigious publications nationwide for her observations on the grocery business. Bridget is also instrumental in planning and executing PG’s long-running Top Women in Grocery (TWIG) event. Follow Bridget on Twitter at @BGoldschmidtPG and on LinkedIn

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