By the year 2025, millennials will account for 75 percent of working age people, and some are already eyeing unionization as a means to an end. The “end” is a collective voice in a changing work environment that’s defined by contracted labor, temporary positions, 24/7 work due to technology and globalization creating a competitive labor market. Numerous studies have been conducted to better understand the workplace matters of importance to millennials. They include employee rights, shared management, work-life balance, job autonomy, participatory decision-making, changing work and work designs, ongoing communication, adequate training and the social responsibilities of corporations.
Some frustrated millennials have positive opinions about unionization as an avenue to getting these issues addressed by giving them a powerful collective voice in the workplace. Employers must develop the ability to engage employees in realistic discussions concerning the negatives of unions or one day find themselves confronted with a union campaign.
Taking Control of a Destiny
Employers know that unions can bring many negatives. An employer can explain that unions often limit employee rights, succeed through intimidation and tie employer hands in areas like compensation and promotion – and the millennial is likely to believe the employer is only being self-serving. Idealistic millennials view the next labor movement as a means to higher wages and job security in a volatile economic environment. But, do they understand the full consequences of a decision to unionize, like seniority rules blocking job promotions of more qualified people and the impact of contract-based pay increases on job availability?
The reality is that unions can take away exactly what millennials desire – the power to drive their own destinies and control their work lives. Unions may restrict the employer’s ability to promote the most qualified employees and limit pay increases based on productivity. They can interfere with the employee’s ability to have honest discussions with supervisors and career progress. Millennials believe in collaborative work styles, and unions interfere with that ability through work rules discouraging teamwork involving different levels of employees.
Trading a Negative for a Positive
An effective leader knows it’s first necessary to get the millennial’s attention. That requires using technology-enabled training, rapid feedback and communication best practices that millennials respect – collaboration, fact-based information and reasonableness. Descriptions of doomsday scenarios in which employees are intimidated by union thugs, forced to go on strike and unable to get earned promotions because of seniority rules may fall on deaf ears.
Ideally, the best approach is discussing the things of importance to millennials and pointing out the ways the company meets their needs with flexible work schedules, a collaborative culture, transparency in decision-making, effective formal and informal communication systems, fair compensation policies, training and skills development opportunities, a commitment to social improvement, job stability and the freedom to discuss workplace issues with managers without fear of repercussions. Then, explain how each positive could be impacted by the union’s presence.
Unions require employee issues to go through the union representative first rather than working collaboratively with the employer. In another example, an employer may not be able to allow flexible work schedules because of seniority clauses and union scheduling rules. Also, as union member Zachary Yost points out, the union dues deducted from paychecks can take a significant percent of the employee’s paycheck. Since millennials make up the largest group in lower-paying retail and service industries, an hour of pay deducted from a part-time paycheck can equate to a five-percent loss.
Collaboratively Embracing Positive Values
The values that unions tout – but don’t adhere to – are the identical values successful employers embrace. Now is the time for employers to union proof their workplaces as pro-union millennials push unionization. The Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of millennials have a favorable opinion of unions. Employers should explain the negatives of joining a union by regularly sharing via technology the positive things that matter most to millennials. Unions make a lot of promises they cannot fulfill. What they do deliver is uncertainty and negativity.