The Workforce Mash-up!

The unprecedented is happening. Workplaces today are seeing five generations together under one roof for the first time

Vidhi Kumar
Director - People Capability 28 May 2020

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The Workforce Mash-up!

The unprecedented is happening. Workplaces today are seeing five generations together under one roof for the first time

While the Traditional are close to retiring, the other four are still very active in the workplace dynamics. Managing these often-conflicting views and needs of a diverse workforce that may cover a wide range of generations – from the Baby Boomers and Gen X to millennials and Gen Z – is a challenge for many organisations. The tension is visible between the highly experienced Baby Boomers who are mostly at the helm in their roles, the disaffected Gen Xer and the technologically savvy millennials.

The foundation of these differences lie in the widely different values held by each generation. Baby boomers, having grown up in a post-independence era of constrained resources and opportunities, strongly believe in the values of hard work and organisational loyalty.

Gen Xers, on the other hand, are highly extrinsically motivated. During their working years, they have paid off their education loans and home loans, while saving for their children’s education and their own retirement. No doubt then, they work hard – sometimes very hard – for an overtime, a promotion or a job change promising better prospects, and take nothing for granted.

As if the conflicts between these two weren’t enough, a huge number of millennials or Gen Y has entered the work place. It is estimated that by 2020, 50% of the global workforce will comprise of millennials. As per surveys, most millennials are happy working alongside other generations and they value older mentors – indeed, they have been raised in an era where the internet brought the world closer and live news feeds and Facebook ensured wide spread collaboration.

However, there are underlying signs of tensions. As per a study by PwC (Millennials at Work, 2011) 38% millennials say that older senior management do not relate to younger workers, and 34% say that their personal drive was intimidating to other generations. And almost half felt that their managers did not always understand the way they use technology at work.

There is some research to suggest that this may be true. The older generations sense entitlement in the millennials. It is not unusual to hear a millennial being described as “smart but lacking motivation”, but this could just as well have meant “smart but I don’t understand his/her motivation”.

The millennial is not your average 9 – 5 worker. They are interested in business beyond their realm of work. They will ask questions about the company’s vision, mission and purpose. They aspire to work for organisations which make a larger difference to the community. The culture and values the organisation stands for and the learning opportunities it offers them are key infliction points. Well networked, millennials rely less on the organisation for these inputs and more on social media and word of mouth.

Once on-board too, Gen Y is posing an exciting opportunity – for the first time the workplaces are getting intrinsically motivated people, and this is where the key talent differentiator rests. Organisations that will leverage this intrinsic motivation will emerge winners in the long run. Whoever said this will be easy is certainly joking! Baby Boomers and Gen Xers will have to unlearn and relearn the dynamics of people management. They need to re-design work plans and use their imagination to “measure performance”. Structures and hierarchies stifle the drive of most Millennials.

Other challenges in bridging this inter-generational gap is to create growth paths such that the Gen Y doesn’t feel blocked. With fitness levels increasing, the Gen X is looking to retire much later. This will create blocks in the traditional corporate ladder, but if HR opens a plethora of learning and growth opportunities for them – in the shape of lateral movements, secondments, rotations and strategic projects – the millennials will find their calling.

HR also has to be prepared to face another demographic challenge - millennials will find themselves managing older workers, some of whom may be resentful of the same. Managing a multi-generational work force demands strong leadership, recognition through the organisation that different generations may need different styles of management and a transparent performance management system that is progressive and transparent.

Getting future ready is the only way ahead. With Gen Z getting ready to jump into the work places sooner than any of their previous generations, are organisations ready to handle this flurry? Born just as the millennium changed, the Gen Z is the first truly digital cluster of workers. They can’t be painted with the millennials brush – multi taskers, easily distracted and entrepreneurial, this bunch of workers will not wait to complete their education to enter the workplace. Therefore, e-learning and sabbaticals have to become in-built into their career plans.

A progressive HR will replace traditional hierarchies with seamless work structures to effectively manage this melting pot of generations. ‘One size fits all’ programs will no longer be valued and technology plays a pivotal role in this arena. Learning management systems (LMS) to map individual e-learning needs, leveraging digital media to attract and retain the right young talent, and using advanced people management software to track their progression, are just some of the areas where technology can lend an edge to organisations.

A lot of change needs to be created on the intangibles though. The multi-generational workplaces can either turn into war zones or can transform into collaborative, respected centres of excellence that are looked up to in organisations. The latter is possible by only focussing on the strengths of each generation. Mentoring programs are the best example here. Baby Boomers and Gen X come with a gold mine of tactical and strategic experience, which is missing in the distracted millennials or Gen Z. The latter on the other hand are the best teachers on using technology and enhancing workplace productivity.

The biggest priority for HR thus becomes building trust. It is easier said than done, but once it is revealed to each of the generations that their drives and ambitions are exclusive yet complimenting each other, their insecurities can turn into synergies. Extensive coaching to senior employees on handling the younger workers, as well as sensitisation of the millennials to adapt to the older generation is a way forward.

What’s in it for the organisation, you may still ask? A lot! Beyond large savings in attracting and retaining the right talent, the organisations are assured a happy, engaged workforce which is motivated for the right reasons apart from pay. Their employees believe in the vision and work towards improved productivity, which in turn leads to increased customer satisfaction and quality. And the best benefit perhaps is knowledge management. The hard work and expertise of the older generations is fused with the energy and productive efficiency of the younger, to create a truly future ready organisation.