Meeting the Challenges of America’s Increasingly Diverse Workforce

Small Business DiversityAmerica has been undergoing a major revolution in recent years, and this upheaval shows no signs of slowing. Thankfully, this revolution is not a violent rebellion seeking to overthrow the government, but rather a transformation in the way companies hire employees and do business with customers.

What is this revolution? To see it, you need only look in the mirror. The faces looking back are changing with increasing frequency. They are becoming younger and ever more diverse, a reflection of how the United States itself is becoming a true multi-cultural nation. And the success of your small business could hinge on how well you as an organization react, adapt and make profitable use of this country’s rapidly changing demographics.

Getting Younger

America’s famous Baby Boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) are now retiring and leaving the workforce in ever-greater numbers. In many small businesses, these employees represent the knowledge and history of the company, with experience that often makes them invaluable and sometimes irreplaceable.

True, workers in this demographic are often the highest paid, and when they retire, firms may be tempted to hire younger, and thus less costly replacements. However, as a small business owner, you need to ask if you will face a potential “brain drain” when this inevitably occurs. Can you replace the knowledge and experience Baby Boomer workers take with them when they leave?

If not, you need to set up a plan to ensure the smooth transfer of knowledge to others within the company. Otherwise, you could face difficulty when problems arise and you no longer have these seasoned pros to fall back on.

While Baby Boomers age, the U.S. population is also seeing a rise in younger workers under the age of 30. Younger workers present many unique challenges for small companies, including a lack of experience and skills, unfamiliarity with business protocol and decorum, and sometimes even difficulty with authority and the use of proper channels to resolve issues. When hiring younger workers, small businesses need to be aware of these challenges. How can you manage these employees in a way that they become productive assets to the company?

Consider establishing a mentor program to guide younger employees. This could provide two valuable benefits: it will help you get the younger employees up to speed more quickly and comfortably, and it may help with the transfer and retention of knowledge from the older workers that otherwise might leave when they retire.

Here are some additional ideas for small businesses to get the most out of younger employees:

  • Offer lots of internal training and encourage participation in outside opportunities to learn and grow, including paying for classes where possible.
  • Vary the routine. Younger workers dislike repetitive tasks and prefer multi-tasking many different jobs.
  • Younger workers excel in collaborative environments. Encourage team-oriented tasks.
  • Use the latest technology when communicating with younger workers, including instant messaging and social media, and make technology available to them in their daily tasks.

The Changing Face of America

America’s population is expected to grow by 50 percent over the next 50 years. Who will these new Americans be? Most will be immigrants, according to recent trends. As a result, the U.S. will become increasingly less white, down from 73 percent to 53 percent by the year 2050, and more Hispanic, rising to 25 percent, and Asian, doubling to 8 percent. The African-American share is not expected to change.

While the population’s gender ratio will stay the same, more and more women are entering the workforce, continuing a long demographic trend that started in the 1970s.

As the nation becomes more diverse, the challenges of dealing with a wider variety of cultures and backgrounds in the workplace become frequently harder. As a small business owner, the pressure on you to make such a wide range of people happy and productive increases. And as a small business owner, you’re no doubt already aware it’s impossible to make everyone happy all of the time.

What can you do to successfully manage the racial, ethnic and cultural challenges arising from America’s quickly changing demographics? Here are a few ideas that might help:

  • Celebrate differences. While people may frequently have more in common than they realize, they also like to have their uniqueness recognized. Encourage them to not only think and act as a team, but to let their individuality show as well.
  • Demonstrate fairness and respect. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach when dealing with people, even people who have similar backgrounds and experiences. Treat each of your employees as individuals with their own unique history and perspective on the world.
  • Foster a spirit of interaction. As with younger workers, encourage your employees to work collaboratively, especially with those of different cultural backgrounds or those of differing generations. Plan lots of events where people can mix among each other. Problems between people often seem to solve themselves once people get to know one another and realize that in spite of the differences, we’re all just human beings trying our best to get the most out of our day and make the most of our lives.
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