Weekly Editorial

Attracting the Next Generation

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Editor-in-chief, officeinsight • March 20, 2023


There’s a lot of handwringing about the lack of young folks entering the office furniture industry and it is a topic that is concerning, but in this column, we are going to highlight one influencer in our industry worth watching and also go over why it is important to include younger generations in leadership roles.

The good news is the industry is slowly, but surely attracting the next generation. Before we get to the “who” let’s take a look at “why” we should connect with this younger generation of influencers.

This probably won’t come as news to any of you, but for the first time, we have four generations working together at the same time (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z). There’s nothing new about young people entering the workforce, but the longevity of the Baby Boomers definitely is.

Though they are retiring in huge waves, a large number of Baby Boomers are actually staying in the workplace longer, especially as life expectancy increases. It is no longer practical for many — or financially viable — to retire early. While it made sense to retire in your mid-60s 50 years ago (since you probably would only live another 10 years or so), it does not if you live into your 90s or even 100. That’s why France recently raised its legal retirement age, much to the consternation of those facing a longer runway to retirement.

Recent studies show a vast majority of individuals, independently of age, believe their jobs are going to transform (90% of those under 35 years old think so, and 86% of those over 35). So maybe we should start helping with this transformation.

Of course, there are differences between generations that will need to be addressed, more specifically, the technological gap. Millennials and Gen Z are digital natives, while Baby Boomers are digital noobs who may or may not be tech-savvy. These young workers are also more likely to accept new technologies than their older counterparts, which can cause friction. Different generations also define success differently. Baby Boomers think working long hours and face-to-face interactions are key while Millennials believe innovation and flexibility are key to success at work. Education and learning is different as well, which affects problem-solving and decision making.

The Society of Human Resource Managers has good advice on how to develop young workers into young leaders. Here’s what they suggest:

  1. Let them know it’s OK to fail—as long as lessons are learned. The key to nurturing 20-something talent is to communicate a clear goal and let them determine the best way to accomplish it.
  2. Be patient. One of the most important tips to consider when developing younger workers is to have patience and remind yourself that they are starting from square one.
  3. Tailor training methods to experience level. Training and nurturing 20-something-year-old employees is significantly different from training established employees because the training regimen for older employees can build and expand upon their pre-existing foundation of experience and knowledge.
  4. Review the strengths that younger workers bring to the table. Give your Generation Z team members assignments that challenge and excite them and allow them to shine and do their best work.
  5. Match Generation Z workers to the right managers and follow up with feedback. It’s important to understand that younger workers are still in a process of transition—and to train them accordingly.
  6. Find out whether your training is yielding results. Managers should check in with the rest of the department to see how younger workers are doing in their respective roles.
  7. Learn how to identify top performers and future company leaders.

It can be difficult to find young people in the office furniture industry making a difference, because chances are, you haven’t discovered or developed their talent yet. But I’d like to introduce you to a couple young industry leaders who are already making a difference.

I had the pleasure to hear Maria VanDeman speak a year ago at the BIFMA 360 conference about diversity, equity and inclusion. She is a district sales manager with OFS in South Florida and the Caribbean and the author of a children’s book called “Design Your World,” which she created with fellow OFSer Doug Shapiro and Kenzie Leon Perry, an interior designer at Miami-based Ze Haus Design Studio, who was responsible for the illustrations. The three launched the book at the IIDA headquarters in Chicago this past week.

VanDeman and Perry are the kind of young and extremely talented people we need in the industry. Folks like VanDeman and Perry crackle with energy when you speak to them. They are full of energy, talent, excitement and potential. I’m thrilled to see OFS giving VanDeman a platform for her talent and challenging her with a prominent industry role.

When you invest in young talent. It always pays off. Always.

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