A decade or two ago this was indeed a tough task. But now when I am asked this question, I immediately respond, “Of course, we can engage to the size of one." The powerful twins of technology and analytics have made it possible to address the each individual employee across their life-cycle with the company.
The employee demographic today is a rainbow coalition, with diversity of gender, ethnicity and age. Gender is important, and ethnic diversity, a business imperative. But generational diversity, though all around us, is rarely identified as something that needs to be gracefully addressed. Today’s workplace could have five generations all at once. Look around—it’s happening.
Talent: old and new
There are the Veterans—the Silent Generation. Born before 1945, they’re committed, disciplined, knowledgeable and patient co-workers who are increasingly doing a second innings at family managed companies and small and medium enterprises, which are not so rigid about age and perception. In fact, recent studies published in The New England Journal Of Medicine have concluded the autumn years of 70-80 are very productive.
You could also find the Baby Boomers, born between 1946-64. Many are active in the workforce, though some are walking into the sunset despite having much left to contribute. Recently, I heard about an airline that used virtual recruiting, and missed the fact that one hire was over the age of 65. Normally, this was frowned on, but this time, the airline chose to give the employee a chance rather than risk litigation by firing. The employee turned out to be an absolute star. The employee was everything they wanted—punctual, conscientious, courteous, mature and energetic. A new trend had started and a new talent pool tapped.
Next comes Gen X, born between 1965 and 1980, who account for about 30% of the global workforce. But it’s Gen Y (born 1981-96), or millennials, and Gen Z (born after 1996), also known as Digital Natives, who will dominate the future workplace.
The workforce is and will be a melting pot of generations, each with its own values, mindsets and culture. A lot like the Indian joint family we all know so well. It is for organizations to harness the positive attributes of each demographic segment by designing strategies across the employee life-cycle, and leveraging technology and analytics.
On the recruitment front, predictive analysis will banish “gut feeling" to make better, more scientific hiring decisions. In methods of finding, hiring and retaining employees, data analysis will be the protagonist of the play.
Big data, available on platforms like LinkedIn and Glassdoor, has the ability to elicit answers to nuanced questions, which when augmented by traditional parameters like educational background and experience history, will help find the right person for the role. What this will also do for a multi-generational workforce is help reduce age discrimination.
The recruitment process will need to be tailored to each generation’s preferred channel, and will have to continue into the on-boarding process and individual development plans. So, it could be gamification for Gen Y, podcasts for Gen X and Baby Boomers, and videos for Gen Z. Some organizations have a self-driven, interactive on-boarding app, while others will combine this with classroom training to take into account all generations.
Team structures will need to carve out roles that tap into age-related skills sets. While restructuring, it will be vital to harness the value the older generation brings to the table and plan accordingly. It will not be surprising to find an older generation reporting to someone younger, and skill building and sensitization of the latter towards such leadership roles will be paramount.
ISSUES THAT MATTER
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is more important for Gen Z and millennials than any other age group. When companies use analytics to hire, they create a level playing field by eliminating stereotypes and inherent biases. Organizations need to include age in their D&I strategy, and create teams that comprise all generations.
On the compensation and benefits front, personalization of employee experience will create more engaged employees. With targeted surveys based on age/demographics, companies will have the agility to introduce age-specific programmes, and design reward programmes suited to individual aspirations.
Programmes should cater to all generations—a Gen Z who wants a portfolio career or Gen X who may crave a crash course in mindfulness. Millennials may prefer an employee assistance programme or paid time-off.
The older generations might benefit from work-from-home policies and medical insurance. Organizations will need to remain open to different ways of working, and recognize that each generation may have different ways of approaching work.
On the developmental front with just-in-time learning and speed having shrunk to nano seconds, employees, especially millennials and Gen Z, are keen for bite-sized, mobile-based learning. Learning analytics will be crucial to develop customized training pedagogies that cater to all five generations. The one-size-fits-all approach can no longer be employed. There needs to be affirmation of the generational differences while deciding development programmes.
LEADERSHIP AND MENTORING
A great plus of different generations at the workplace is the opportunity for strong reverse mentoring. Older generations can get a treasure trove of information from their younger colleagues, while the latter gain in terms of self-confidence. A cocktail of fresh ideas meeting wisdom and experience leads to “mutual mentoring"
Of course, technology and analytics do not automatically lead to successful engagement at the level of one. One needs leaders at all levels who are truly inclusive and bring in the best of everyone by celebrating differences not sameness. The leader also needs to ensure that all generations are communicating effectively. There are several myths and preconceived notions about each generation at the workplace. It’s time corporates, in true “circle of life" mode, channelled their efforts to create a modern, inclusive workplace.
Hema Ravichandar is a strategic human resources consultant. She serves as an independent director and advisory board member for several organizations.