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To meet the needs of the YMCA’s vibrant, diverse and intergenerational workforce, the Emerging Leaders Resource Network (ELRN) recently developed the #NextGenNeeds framework.

Through dedicated research, this outline provides Y’s a collection of preferred workplace conditions younger generations are seeking from employers.

Bobby Thomas, the executive director of YMCA Camp Duncan and Camp Independence, said the framework’s importance was proven after an analysis of the YMCA workforce showed it was older than the national average.

“Specifically, there are fewer staff under the age of 40 than there were ten years ago,” said Thomas. “More recently, the vast changes across the nation in the YMCA caused by the COVID-19 pandemic did not help. We believe this has implications for community representation, the ability to respond to community needs, organizational relevancy and, critically, the continuity of a leadership pipeline.”

The #NextGenNeeds Outline

Thomas said they organized these preferred working conditions into three categories: Work-life harmony, professional development and organizational culture.

For several years, the ELRN steering committee members researched, tracked trends and synthesized information regarding younger generations in the workforce. That work created the three main categories and key learnings.

Specifically, ELRN found flexible work environments and flexible scheduling assist work-life harmony. Feedback, mentoring and continuous learning opportunities improve professional development. Finally, collaborative environments, a cause-driven purpose, and flat management and decision making should be areas of focus for promoting a productive organizational culture.

“#NextGenNeeds is less a series of answers than it is a series of questions that calls for an organization like the Y to examine how it strengthens its internal (staff) community,” said Thomas. “We believe for an organization like the Y to have the greatest impact, its organizational culture and values should start with staff and flow out into the community.”

Thomas said ELRN is currently promoting these ideas at YMCA events. There, they seek to raise awareness of the issues and engage in conversation.

“We recognize how these ideas will play out will differ for many Y’s,” said Thomas. “For instance, work-life harmony could be a flexible schedule, flexibility in location, enhancements to sick leave or parental leave, etc. What we feel is important is organizations like the YMCA review their policies and work environment and ‘ask how staff are benefiting from being here?’”

The ELRN Steering Committee recently hosted its first national virtual event to showcase the #NextGenNeeds work. Thomas said reactions have spanned from curiosity to astonishment.

“Overall, the receptiveness has been positive with most of the attendees wanting more information,” said Thomas. “It seems our colleagues know the three pillars identified are desires from the next generation of employees.”


Image courtesy of Bobby Thomas

How YMCAs Can Get Involved

Thomas said they encourage Ys to review the #NextGenNeeds executive summary as well as the full document containing a deeper analysis and sources used in the research.

Then, Ys can begin a series of conversations to examine how these conditions show up. If Ys, for example, have a staff recognition program, is it having its intended effect? If Ys are having a difficult time retaining younger staff, do they know why?

“The #NextGenNeeds will almost serve as a living document as the information is merely a stop gap in the ongoing work to develop a workplace that is enjoyable, empowering and beneficial to our next generation of leaders,” said Thomas. “The important thing to remember is there is a time limit to adapting your workplace culture and environment. Be intentional and genuine in the approach to change but know that many companies and organizations have already figured some of these things out.”

For more information on #NextGenNeeds or the ELRN, contact Thomas at rjthomas@ymcachicago.org.


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John Reecer

John Reecer is an assistant editor at Peake Media.

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