Millennials at work

On 24 and 25th of September 2018, 53 young workers’ representatives from 19 different countries gathered in Sofia (Bulgaria) for the EZA Platform for Young Workers Youth Conference in collaboration with the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa.

To start with, participants were confronted with one strand of research on Millennials, Generation Y or the digital natives born between 1982 and 2000. According to this research, millennials are individualistic, narcissistic, less disciplined than elders and they dislike hierarchies. They are tolerant, interested in the general good, supporting social causes and activists. Moreover, this generation requires workplaces to adapt. They seek equilibrium between work and private life, they want to create their own job description, desire immediate feedback and get bored easily. HR managers state that understanding, motivating and leading Gen Y employees is difficult for many Gen X managers. Millennials are often perceived as job-hoppers but have a desire for stability. Job-hopping could thus be explained by the fact that workplaces do not match young people’s expectations. Andreaa Mitan from the University of Bucharest concluded that organisations need to understand that they need to invest more in boarding and day to day management of this generation. Organisations need to invest in fitting the profile of the person with the cultural environment of the working place and offer valid self-evaluation tools. During the discussion, it was asked whether financial reasons could also explain job-hopping.

In a world café, participants collected experiences, good practices and lessons learned on how workers’ representatives can reach out to Millennials. The first advice was to be present on social media with interesting and attractive actions and to interact with the young. Social media campaigns should be developed in such a way that they do not only result in likes, but that people also engage as a member.  Moreover, workers’ representatives need to go where young people are in the offline world: in youth councils at local and national level and involve them in an early stage at schools and in universities. For example, in Denmark, you can join a trade union from the age of 13. Other organisations also offered a reduced membership fee or extra benefits for the young. A third advice was to create a group feeling, a feeling of belonging. This can be done via sport competitions, street events, a trade union summer school, etc. Last but not least, it was agreed upon that trade unions must involve and invest in young people and diversify their efforts to different groups of young people. Workers’ organisations should not try to address the youth ‘to have young members’, but also give them a place in the organisation. It is important that workers’ organisations improve their old-school image and educate young people in trade union values and activism. It is a long work to teach young people the basics of trade unionism: that negotiating for themselves challenges solidarity and that having a good relationship with your boss does not necessarily bring you the best working conditions. This is particularly important in multinationals in Central and Eastern Europe where employers are more hostile towards trade unions. Participants also discussed on the challenges resulting from the fact that their organisation is not the only workers’ organisation.

The findings of the world café were confirmed by a European Research project on empowering the integration of young workers in the Metal, Manufacturing, Transport, Food, Services, Construction and Wood industries. Ida Ricci (Filca-Cisl) who presented the research, confirmed that any strategy to involve the youth should focus on 1. Organising and recruiting 2. Communication and 3. Youth representation. Youth representation means providing a reference person, enabling young trade union activists to be visible on the first line to promote activities, allowing participation in decision making processes and opportunity for taking up responsibility.  Denis Strieder, youth secretary at FCG (Fraction of Christian trade unions in the Austrian trade union confederation) is such a reference person and he reflected on youth representation together with Diomides Diomidous (DEOK, EZA board member). Denis confirmed that his organisation would need to recruit 3000 new members every year in order to maintain their current membership level.

During a simulation exercise, participants developed skills to enable youth representation in their own organisation. They were divided into two groups: a group of young trade unions and the members of the executive council. Two negotiation rounds took place in which the young advocated first for 50% of young members in the executive council. In the end, both parties agreed upon giving one seat to a youth representative after the next elections and decided to set up a temporary subcommittee to enable input from young workers’ representatives until the next trade union congress. Through this exercise, participants learned to develop arguments to advocate for youth representation and learned to understand and anticipate the arguments of the older generation.

At the end of the second day, participants were invited to put into practice what they had learned and were asked to develop a campaign.  In less than one-hour time, a video was made, an Instagram story created and an idea for a flash mob was developed. Other ideas such as working with sketches, communicating about trade union results and collecting stories of young people on why they joined a union were also warmly received by the participants.