Five generations: How to wow your entire workforce

Charlotte Nicol
Last updated on 3rd August 2020
3 min read

For the first time there are five generations spanning the workforce spectrum. Generation Z is coming of age, and with people living longer than ever before, many baby boomers are still working beyond the traditional retirement age.

Clearly, this presents new and unique challenges for HR and business, not least because it increases complexity and calls for an altogether more strategic approach to people management. Simply put, if businesses fail to do this in today’s modern working age, talent retention will prove increasingly difficult.

So where should HR leaders begin? What do they need to know and do? Here are four things every business needs to be doing:

1. Take time to understand what makes different generations tick

This article published in Business 2 Community provides a useful outline of generational parameters in a workforce context, as well as an overview of how, typically, each generation likes to be rewarded, recognized and managed at work.

So while Gen Z-ers – the workforce newbies born from the late-90s onwards – are commonly motivated by mentoring platforms, respect from their co-workers and out-of-work social events, the same is not true for Gen X-ers who are aged 34-51, and who tend to most value corporate wellbeing programs, performance recognition and lifestyle/family-related benefits.

While generational differences definitely exist in the workforce, it’s important for HR to recognize that these are also stereotypical. Being born in a certain decade does not make us a carbon copy of that generation, and indeed, generations also merge into one another. So what of the people who fall on the cusps?

In order to cater more specifically to individual employees’ needs and wants, businesses need to understand what motivates them as individuals and what their personal expectations are – and this requires effective and regular communication.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate

The importance of regular, two-way communication with HR in the modern workplace cannot be underestimated. Its end output is a more cohesive and engaged workforce, and we all know what that translates to in bottom line terms.

Asking employees to complete regular surveys that include questions on what they, as individuals, value most in a workplace context can be a great way to gather actionable feedback. Similarly, ensuring regular face time with HR personnel can shed light on problematic issues and enable leaders to take corrective action early on.

On the technology front, people analytics and data science are also playing an increasingly pivotal role in not only identifying employee trends, but also tracking these as they evolve in line with changing employee needs and wants. With people now at the center of business success, people analytics – and the actionable insights they deliver – are becoming a must in modern business.

3. Motivate with the right rewards and recognition

Once you’ve gauged a better understanding of what makes your people tick, you’ll know how they prefer to be recognized and rewarded at work. Whether that be more vacation, perks such as retail vouchers, or even access to physical and/or emotional wellbeing benefits, each employee will value rewards differently, so a bespoke approach is always best.

4. Leverage cross-generational collaboration

The role of HR is also to break down generational barriers in the workplace, because these do exist, and they’re counter-productive to business success. Most often, these occur on opposite ends of the age spectrum, perhaps due to baby boomers and Gen Z sharing less common ground and because the seniority and experience gap is at its widest in this scenario.

So how can this be overcome? Mentoring schemes can be a great way to encourage greater interaction between older and younger employees. This differs from the manager/employee relationship because mentors and mentees often work in different business functions and the purpose of the relationship is purely pastoral.

Baby boomers, for instance, can relay their own career experiences to teach younger workers about pitfalls to avoid, and goals to focus on. Similarly, younger workers born in the era of technology will likely be able to teach their elder co-workers new IT skills. It’s a win-win.

Optimizing the management of a multi-generational workforce is a topic of particular interest to the Sage People team – so much so that we recently commissioned a research project to learn more about the challenges HR leaders are facing as they oversee a workforce that includes 17 year olds and 70 year olds, and everyone in between.

The results provided some great insight into the key issues, with many saying the solution lies in better understanding of employee needs and wants – something which in today’s modern HR environment, needs to be led by people analytics and data science.

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