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Workers, Especially Millennials and Gen Z, Want Flexibility, But What Does That Really Mean?

By: Bruce Tulgan

Every day it seems like new research is being released (including our own!) that backs up what employers already know: today’s workers value flexibility above almost everything else. This includes an array of things from flexible schedules to workspaces and everything in between. But for employers in manufacturing this can seem like it presents a real conundrum: the fact of the matter is that most manufacturing jobs simply cannot be done anywhere other than on the production line, or at any time other than during the typically scheduled hours.

So, in order to remain competitive and attract, hire, and retain the best of today’s young talent, what are these employers to do?

It might be as simple as reconsidering what you think flexibility means to your future workforce.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that if a young person is interested in a career in manufacturing, they probably already understand that it will require them to work in a certain location at a certain time. Making this clear throughout the entire hiring process – from job postings to the interview to the job offer itself – will weed out anyone who hasn’t sufficiently taken this into consideration. Be up front that this is non-negotiable, period. But in all likelihood, this isn’t the type of flexibility issue that concerns your new young employees the most.

Flexibility, for both blue- and white-collar workers, is a work-life balance concern that goes beyond the luxury of working on your own schedule or in your own home. In today’s normalized culture of overwork and self-sacrifice in order to “prove” your dedication to a job, employees come to work sick, are unable to care for ill or dying loved ones, or miss other major life events for themselves or their families. Most of the time, when employees talk about the importance of flexibility, what they really mean is that they want to know they will be supported if they need a sick day, have to take a sudden unexpected leave in order to care for someone they love, or would like time off to attend a wedding.

Too many employees fear that they risk losing their job or will be looked over for advancement and development opportunities simply because of things outside of their control in their lives outside of work. Despite constant refrains from organizations that their “people are their most valuable asset,” those organizations do little to support their people in ways that truly matter to them.

Take an honest look at your company culture and ask yourself whether or not this is the type of fear and anxiety it produces. If so, it’s time to make some changes. That’s not just for the benefit of your potential new hires or the ensured future success of your business – making those changes will improve the working lives of all of your employees. When people feel supported and secure, they’re more likely to engage in what matters at work and produce better results.

When that young person mentions flexibility in their job interview, go right ahead and ask them: What does flexibility mean to you? And while you’re at it, feel free to ask the same question of all of your current employees, too. Whatever their answer, you’re bound to gain valuable insight and information.

For more information or to schedule Bruce as a speaker contact Liz Richards, Director of Creative Content:

Additional Articles and Reports by Bruce:
The Voice of Generation Z – Report
The Voice of Generation Z – The Human Element on YouTube
Winning the Talent Wars – White Paper





About the Author: 
Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an on-line training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (2009; revised and expanded edition 2016), It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007), Winning the Talent Wars (2001), FAST Feedback (1999), and the classic Managing Generation X(1995). His work has been the subject of thousands of news stories around the world. He has written pieces for numerous publications, including the New York Times, USA Today, the Harvard Business Review, Training Magazine, and Human Resources. Bruce also holds a sixth-degree black belt in classical Okinawan Uechi Ryu Karate Do. He lectures periodically at the Yale University School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife Dr. Debby Applegate, author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning biography The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher(2006) as well as Madam: The Notorious Life and Times of Polly Adler (forthcoming).

About RainmakerThinking, Inc.:
RainmakerThinking, Inc. is a management research, training and consulting firm and the leading authority on generational issues in the workplace, founded and run by best-selling author and internationally recognized management expert Bruce Tulgan.

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