There has been a great deal of discussion surrounding the supposedly differing attitudes to work found in each generation. What is sometimes forgotten is that people and generations age – and each ‘latest generation’ is succeeded by the next demographic cohort as workforce trends shift.
Baby boomers (many of whom are now retired, or approaching retirement age) were succeeded by Generation X, which was followed in turn by Generation Y (the much worried-about Millennials). Yesterday’s interns are of course today’s supervisors and managers, and tomorrow’s directors. Many Millennials are now well into their careers, and the oldest members of Generation Z are beginning to enter the job market.
‘Y’ all the worry?
Each generation has been identified as having certain prevailing beliefs and attitudes, with Generation Y being singled out for criticism for being less focused on work. Their emphasis on work-life balance, collaboration and the use of technology will shape how they manage and supervise the younger people now beginning to work.
Of course, no workforce is static: people leave and arrive, acquire new skills and get promoted. But companies are currently having to manage two major demographic workforce trends happening at the same time. These are aging and diversification, and it’s important that employers embrace both shifts if they are to remain competitive.
Resistance to change
Longer life expectancy and the global recession of 2008-9 have combined to effectively rule out early retirement for many people. This means more, older people are still working, with the advantage for employers that key skills and experience – often accumulated over decades – are being retained. Long-term employees are also often the repository of the ‘soul’ of a company, and can be invaluable when it comes to inducting new people into the organization’s values, and passing on collective knowledge.
Older employees can however be more resistant to change, and this becomes a factor when introducing new systems and technology. They are the people who will be most familiar with legacy systems, and their buy-in is often identified as a key success factor in ERP implementation. Once they are convinced, however, their leadership attributes can ensure trickle-down acceptance of new systems throughout the entire workforce. Achieving this depends on appropriate change management.
The desire to remain in stable employment for longer is a workforce trend that is being seen at both ends of the employment age spectrum. While older employees may be unable or unwilling to retire, Generation Z are known to be much more risk-averse than Millennials. This is likely a function of having grown up in economically more uncertain times.
There are potential advantages for employers here, in the shape of reduced churn throughout the HR structure, and consequently lower training and induction costs. As with all trends – whether technological or human – the companies that manage them best are those that can embrace change and empower each generation and each employee to perform optimally.
Diversity overcomes adversity
In addition to chronological diversity, employers are also being called on to adapt to increased cultural diversity within the workforce. Both employees and customers are far more likely to call out any perceived race, gender or sexual orientation-based discrimination. This should not make companies fearful of appearing prejudiced. Rather, it is a wonderful opportunity for them to display their inclusion credentials, and more importantly, to hire and train a workforce that more accurately represents – and is more relatable for – their target audiences.
In the same way that people from different generations will approach and solve problems in different ways, people who with different life experiences can also add new perspectives. Indeed, organizations which suffer from institutional bias and repeatedly hire the same kinds of people, no matter how intelligent or talented they are, invariably end up with a very narrow perspective on their business environment.
Workforce trends are just as important as technological innovations in shaping the world of work and determining which companies will thrive. Ignore them at your peril!