Shifting demographics should guide leader behavior

Economic Trends 2017


About 75 million people are part of the baby-boom generation, many of whom are retiring in droves. And the generation that follows, Generation X, includes just 66 million people.

The shifting demographics of the U.S. workforce should heavily influence the strategic planning of business owners in 2017, said Debbie Seeger, co-founder and senior vice president at executive placement firm Patina Solutions in Brookfield.


Culture, work roles and training programs all will be influenced by the impending generational gaps, said Seeger, who will be a presenter at the Northern Trust Economic Trends breakfast presented by BizTimes Media on Jan. 26.

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“You have to have some sense of understanding that the workers will gain leverage,” Seeger said. “That’s not a trend; it’s a fact.”

For that reason, business owners must renew their focus on creating an attractive culture, be open to a contingent workforce and become institutions of learning, she said.

“Culture takes place front and center as the No. 1 thing that candidates look for when choosing their next employer,” Seeger said. “That changes by generation, but generally culture is moving into the front spot.”

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According to Seeger, people work at a company for two reasons: Financial compensation and emotional compensation. A company should show employees its values and how they have a greater value to society, she said.

“Everybody understands financial compensation,” Seeger said. “But the other part of this is it’s becoming more and more important for companies to understand how you treat people. If they feel like their financial compensation is even a little bit less than fair and they don’t feel rewarded, recognized, part of a team and their values are in alignment, they’ll leave.”

Changing population demographics also are driving a shift toward a more “gig” economy, she said.

Contracted, seasonal, temporary, summer, internship and part-time workers now make up approximately 35 percent of the workforce, Seeger said. Employers will have to decide what kind of balance to strike between core employees and contingent employees.

Workers are driving the shift to gig work because it offers them the opportunity for more work-life balance, but at the same time it’s an opportunity for companies that want workforce flexibility, she said.

In the gig economy, employers can expect more cloud recruiting, or the “uberization of talent,” which makes workers more easily transferrable because their roles are assigned virtually based on pure talent.

Finally, the shifting workforce makeup means companies must become institutions of learning, taking the lead in training talent on both technical and soft skills, Seeger said.

Because fewer workers are available, employers can’t afford not to hire someone because their critical thinking or work ethic isn’t perfect, she said. They should take the initiative to hire employees who have potential and then train them on those skills.

“They’re having to start somewhere and not just throw up their hands and say, ‘Oh, this younger generation doesn’t have a work ethic,’” Seeger said. “Well, what are you going to do about it?”

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