No individual employer is going to change the reality of an aging demographic or generational attitudes, but there are several things organizations can do to make work more satisfying for younger employees, a professor told participants at an event in Halifax on Tuesday.

Speaking at Benefits Canada‘s 2017 Halifax Benefits Summit, Karen Foster, an associate professor in the department of sociology and social anthropology at Dalhousie University, addressed some of the challenges Atlantic Canada is experiencing when it comes to population decline and maintaining its younger population. When it comes to addressing the trend, organizations must first mainstream millennial perspectives, according to Foster. Too often, companies have policies and approaches specific to that age group, she noted, suggesting the approach can isolate them from the rest of the organization. As a result, integration is necessary.

Read: Sounding Board: How to support millennials’ growing use of mental-health services

Organizations also need to better understand health on a holistic level and act accordingly, Foster suggested. “We need real improvements to work-life balance,” said Foster, who’s also the Canada research chair in sustainable rural futures. While policies such as flexible working and telecommuting are important, it’s equally important to enable employees to give back to their community, she added.

Finally, to retain employees and keep them happy at work, employers need to address gaps in the cost of living, said Foster, noting they also need to reward hard work and be explicit about their recognition efforts.

There’s also a role for the government to play in attracting and retaining younger workers, she said, suggesting the need for action is immediate. As baby boomers across Canada are reaching retirement, there are fewer young people to fill jobs, said Foster. Looking specifically at Atlantic Canada, she noted the intensity of those dual realities. The region is aging faster than the rest of the country and it loses more young people through migration than it gains.

Read: Demand for flexible working expected to grow: survey

Money is one reason millennials are leaving. “Young people here who move away tend to see an increase in earnings,” said Foster. “Average wages are lower in Atlantic Canada than other places.”

In addition, a university degree doesn’t lead to the job security or salary it once did, she said, referring to a study that found while graduates in 2014 were more likely to get a job than was the case in 2009, they didn’t fare as well as those who had finished their studies in 2007.

“Young graduates today are less likely to have a full-time job. They are less likely to have a permanent job,” said Foster.

Perception is also reality for young people, Foster cautioned. “They are now hearing they will have multiple careers. Even if this is not true, this is the attitude they are bringing to the workplace. It’s an attitude of doubt and self-protection.”

Read: Younger workers more willing to make trade-off in benefits plans

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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