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The current generation of workers expects to blend their philanthropic and life goals with their job responsibilities.
One of the biggest moves HR software vendors have made in 2016 is incorporating new functionality into their products to address employee volunteer work.
For example, Oracle added a new module, called My Volunteering, to its human capital management (HCM) software suite. The module is part of Oracle's work-life HR software. It allows employees to identify employer-supported volunteer efforts and suggests volunteer opportunities that closely align with an employee's skills.
What's the message for CXOs?
Sarah Nahm, a Millennial CEO of HR recruitment solutions firm Lever, said employees of her generation were "seeking a calling, not necessarily just a job." This is a sharp departure from the work expectations and conditions that the previous generation of Boomers worked under. (I remember a woman on a software development project who went into labor two days before a critical project deadline. She gave birth one night and was back in her office coding at 9:00 the next morning.)
"Most definitely, there was another culture," Nahm said. "We have a number of Boomer executives, and they have had to adjust to the different work expectations of Millennials."
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Companies are finding that the easiest way to adjust to Millennial worker expectations is to incorporate employees' desires to make a difference through volunteer work. If the company is committed to helping people build their own first homes, employees can volunteer for that. If a company has a "fight cancer" initiative, it can enlist employee volunteers with an interest in that effort. And if a company has a green or sustainability program, as many companies do, it can give employees a chance to participate in a way that benefits them, the environment, and the company.
Fostering volunteer opportunities for employees so that they can more closely link their personal life goals with what they're doing for a paycheck isn't just a "feel good" tactic, either. In today's tight tech industry labor market, it can become a mandate. Highly sought-after employees and prospects want their work and their personal interests aligned and not disconnected.
There are other reasons for fostering volunteerism and accommodating lifestyle needs, too: employee stability and mental health.
These issues have been especially hot in the gaming industry, where The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) is taking on the issues of unpaid overtime and "crunch" in game development. The group has made it their business to highlight best practices and to call out the overall prevalence of abusive demands on software developers in gaming.
IGDA surveys taken in 2014 and 2015 revealed that uncompensated overtime during crunch was a significant concern. The two surveys showed that nearly half of the respondents worked more than 60 hours per week, and 17% worked more than 70 hours. In 2014, 38% of gaming developers said their employer did not offer additional compensation for overtime. That figure was 37% in 2015.
Poor working conditions was cited as a major reason for the industry's negative reputation and it's a likely cause of workers jumping ship for non-gaming employment. But predictably, some in the gaming industry objected to the findings.
Alex St. John, a senior figure at Microsoft in the 1990s and the former head of gaming firm WildTangent, expressed scorn over developer complaints. "I can't begin to imagine how sheltered the lives of modern technology employees must be to think that any amount of hours they spend pushing a mouse around for a paycheck is really demanding strenuous work."
Finding the balance
Getting the job done when it needs to be done with whatever it takes is important. But it's also important for CEOs and other C-level officials to heed the call of a newer generation that wants a better balance between their work and their personal lives.
The correlations between overwork, burnout, and absenteeism have long been documented, as have correlations between overwork and depression. Such situations have a negative impact on corporate productivity.
In addition, a reputation for overworking and burning out employees can affect your brand—and your ability to attract and retain talented workers at a time when IT and tech talent demand is high and fiercely competitive.
Strategically, it is important for CEOs and other C-level executives, particularly in work-driven tech firms, to come to terms with employees' needs to volunteer and to pursue other activities that are life-oriented and that can blend with their work.
It will result in employees who are healthier, more engaged, and more productive. And it just might improve your ability to recruit and retain top talent.