The Future of Unions – Engaging all Four Generations

Image: The Future of Unions – Engaging all Four Generations

Generational Challenges Facing Unions

Most unions have long histories and many traditions. They are also mainly dominated by Baby Boomer members and leaders. This often means that unions have very traditional values and expectations that align with their membership.

When Gen Xers and Gen Ys join unions, they often find that they don’t have sufficient numbers to be influential. They also find it difficult to navigate the structure of the union given its rigor and formality.

Gen Xers are typically less inclined to be “political” and they tend to get less involved in unions and organizations. While members of this cohort are quite vocal about their own issues and expectations, they tend to be less vocal when it comes to issues regarding the group. Members of this generation typically look after their own self-interests first.

While Gen Ys are more collective n oriented, they don’t necessarily see their current job as a life-long career. They expect to have many different careers and they often expect to change career paths frequently. This can cause them to be less involved in unions as they don’t feel as though they will remain in one field for very long.

Why Engaging Members is Important for Unions

Both employers and unions are similar in many ways. They both have distinct organizational structures and they both have to satisfy stakeholders (shareholders and citizens or union members.) Just as employers must find ways to engage their employees, unions must find ways to engage their members.

What Younger Generations Expect from Unions

What it takes to engage a Gen X or Gen Y employee or member is different than what it takes to engage a Baby Boomer.

Gen Xers and Gen Ys often see their union as a service provider. Since they pay unions dues, they expect the union to serve their needs and solicit their opinions. This is different than previous generations who felt that being a member of a union was a privilege.

Younger generations also expect that performance be a focus, even within a unionized environment. They believe that it’s the job of the union to manage performance and to manage poor performers out. Gen Xers and Gen Ys feel that they should be rewarded for their performance, not simply for their tenure and seniority. For example, they may wonder why their colleagues make the same amount of money as they do when they feel as though they have worked harder or delivered better results. They expect the union to resolve these situations rather than protecting long standing employees simply because of their tenure.

Younger union members expect the union leaders to be transparent, responsive and partnering. They want their unions to work towards a collaborative model, rather than an adversarial one when relating to employers. They have a “pack mentality” and seek to find solutions that benefit everyone in the group.

Unions that hope to engage members of all generations must take a more open, collaborative and responsive approach in all aspects of leading and managing the union.  By engaging younger members and focusing on what it is important them, unions will be able increase loyalty and build a base for future membership.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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