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How print businesses can have better relationships with new, young staff

by FESPA Staff | 28/05/2024
How print businesses can have better relationships with new, young staff

Recruitment and retention remains a problem in many print businesses. We spoke to best-selling author and expert in emerging generations Chloe Combi about how printers can maximise their relationship with young workers.

Businesses – and whole industries – survive and thrive thanks to how they can make the most of the new talent that joins their ranks. But arguably the cultural disconnect between a print manager or business owner now in their 40s or 50s, and a school leaver in their late teens or early 20s, hasn’t been wider since the cultural revolution of the 1960s. 

So how can people who are already well established in the print industry really understand and nurture younger workers just entering the sector and beginning their career in print? The first thing, best-selling author and futurist Chloe Combi says, is to appreciate there is a general difference in outlook regarding work. 

“Even just 10 years ago, the idea that you didn’t have come into work Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, would have been fairly unusual. I think the expectation was, regardless of which industry you worked in, you went to work and you were physically ‘in’ work,” Chloe says.

“Obviously, the pandemic changed that. In one sense, it was hugely empowering for workers because it gave people a sense that they had got their lives back and they weren’t losing three hours a day or thousands of pounds a year commuting. But people also realised there was a real benefit to reassessing that work/life balance and getting those hours back – in some ways working from home a few days a week may have made them more productive.”

Chloe Combi

“I know there are complaints that the experience of the pandemic has created incredibly lazy people, but I think there is a difference between hard work and smart work, and it is not necessary that you sacrifice your entire life for your job. If we think of countries that prioritise the work/life balance to a greater extent – such as those in Scandinavia – we certainly don’t think of those places as unproductive countries.”

Unique challenges

While the experience of the pandemic might have changed the notion of what work means for people of all ages, for young workers entering the workplace now, there are issues of insecurity that previous generations did not have to face. 

“For example, there is a whole new idea that not only will you not have a job for life, you may not even have a career for life. That is something that is quite new and unique to this generation,” Chloe says.

“Previously, I think that idea would have been considered as a negative for older generations, but I think for younger workers, the idea that they could try out lots of different careers or jobs is actually a net positive.

“In addition, I also think the whole era of the amazing pension package – such as our parents and grandparents received – doesn’t exist anymore. Therefore, there isn’t necessarily the same incentive to stay in the same job for 40 or 50 years.”

That said, what younger generations want from work isn’t perhaps all that different from what people have always wanted.

“Of course everybody is different, but I would say the biggest factors are, first, a job that is stimulating and interesting, and offers an obvious path towards progression. There should be a linear sense of progress,” Chloe said.

“Second, salary is a massive factor and the third factor that is a really big part of what young people are looking for is colleagues. They want to be surrounded by a good team and they want supportive management.

“Post-pandemic, there is an assumption that all young people want to stay at home and work. I don’t think that is true at all. But I think there has to be flexibility that suits people. From speaking to young people, it is evident that the majority of them do want to come into the office but working from 9 to 5 every day feels a bit outdated now and I think flexible and hybrid culture is quite important.” 

Unique benefits

It is important to understand that this slight shift in outlook – and the accompanying shift in approach that employers may have to make to accommodate it – comes with a measure of reward, not least via the unique contributions that younger workers can make to your business.

“The whole notion of media and marketing and communication has completely flipped in one generation. Social media has become far more important than traditional media, and with that has comes a whole new language that I think young people are naturally very good at. That can be a real benefit,” Chloe says.

“Young people’s willingness to talk and be open about things like mental health and wellbeing and fairness and diversity is sometimes perceived in a negative manner, but there are actually lots of industries where that is quite positive.

“And younger people are naturally less hierarchical than they were 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago. There is much to be said about the idea of an intergenerational skills share. Knowledge and experience doesn’t only have to go down towards less experienced people – I think it can also have go upwards and around, which is actually beneficial across industries. Work should be an interesting balance between professionalism, but also a place where people can have open conversations and where people can learn from each other. 

“I think there is also an emerging fear that people can’t be managers and can’t say they are in charge, and can’t pass on their wisdom and experience. But that is not true. Young people also want to learn – it is just about embracing the balance between the old and the new.”

Action plan for businesses

What do those in management positions in the print industry need to do to attract and retain the brightest new talent? Chloe says there are three key points.

“Most importantly for longevity and happy workers is effective and very clear training. There is a real panic around the idea of impostor syndrome. New workers are not the most resourceful generation because they have come from schooling and parenting where everything has been explained or done for them. Therefore, I think very clear and very thorough initial training is a really effective way of making people stay with your business and retain their loyalty,” Chloe says.

“The second factor is to look for candidates in interesting places and think about where you are sourcing talent from. 

“Then it is important to embrace flexibility. I think there has to be an acceptance that things aren’t worse or better, they are just different. We need to embrace the idea that we no longer work in a 9 to 5 environment where everybody is expected to get on the train to work at 7.30am. What does this new work culture look like? We need to be creative and agile about that.”

A final message

But Chloe also had one final message particularly relevant for many companies in the print industry: don’t lose all your tradition and all your authenticity. 

“We see, particularly with more traditional industries, how they really want to be seen as hip. That can look really rather embarrassing. The mainstream media has done that for example, and it has completely sacrificed the good stuff. It is tradition that maintains who you are,” Chloe said.

“Therefore, it is fine to embrace all this modernity, but maintain the core of your business. That makes sense because it has worked for decades or even hundreds of years, and it will continue to work. Be flexible and embrace social media and elements like that, but don’t throw out tradition.” 

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by FESPA Staff Back to News

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