Five generations, flying blind – today’s HR challenges greater than ever

There have never been so many generations in the workplace, causing new and increasing people challenges for business and HR leaders. That is the view from Sage People’s survey released today, From ‘17-70’, which recently polled 250 HR leaders from the U.K. and U.S. on managing the different generations in their workforces.

The great demographic divide

Average life expectancy has increased significantly while retirement savings have reduced, meaning for the first time there are five generations in the workforce. The findings showed that the youngest and oldest workforce demographics create the greatest HR challenges for modern businesses with 47.6% of respondents citing Millennials as the most challenging, closely followed by Baby Boomers, which received just over a third (33.6%) of total responses.

“Businesses today are navigating uncharted territory, managing people each with their own needs, preferences and developmental opportunities,” said Adam Hale, EVP of Sage People. “This can create a high level of uncertainty around how to hire the best talent of any age while providing all employees with the necessary support to perform at their best. More than ever before, HR leaders need to think like people scientists in order to optimize both talent management and business outcomes.”

Sage People’s research also found that juggling the collision of old and new working practices is an issue for more than one in five (22%) HR leaders. The rise of the two youngest worker demographics, Millennials and Gen Z, who have ushered in greater demand for more flexibility around how, when and where they work, is largely the driving force behind this collision, and presents a direct conflict to employees aged 40+ who are typically more used to regular working patterns and locations. 

The demand for people science

In a bid to combat the challenges presented by the increasingly diverse and multi-generational global workforce, more than half (52%) of HR leaders are now hiring people scientists to improve their visibility and understanding of their workforces.

People scientists are able to gain predictive insights and be more proactive, providing a more holistic understanding of people through increased contextual information from multiple sources, not just HR. Yet despite this, 42% still only have a partial view of their workforce.

The global HR industry’s increasing use of people science tallies with two thirds of respondents (66%) who stated that Big Data and people analytics will be ‘important’ or ‘very important’ in enabling HR to become more productive and strategic. Similar respondent percentages also cited the importance of digital HR (66.4%), behavioral economics (66%) and cognitive computing (63%) in facilitating better management of the global, cross-generational workforce.

Digital skills gap hindering talent acquisition

The survey also revealed that the digital skills gap remains as prevalent as ever. The wide range of age groups in today’s workforce means that the spread of technical understanding, competence and confidence is vast. So much so, that nearly a quarter (21%) reported a high level of difficulty in finding talent with the necessary digital skills.

In fact, identifying the best talent is an ongoing challenge for HR professionals in both countries. Faced with five generations in the workforce, each with various skills and competencies, almost a third (30%) of total respondents cited talent acquisition as their greatest challenge.

Hale commented, “With different generations working alongside each other, businesses must ensure they have the right tools and strategies to manage their teams effectively. And as the workforce continues to evolve, success will be contingent upon having full visibility of all employees, their skills and where they need additional support. This is especially true with multi-generational workforces where factors such as a digital skills and the need to build effective leadership pipelines further complicate the talent management process.”

Sage People’s research highlights the growing importance of HR to wider business success – and indeed, with more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents stating that they report directly to their company’s CEO, this is further evidence that HR’s importance is rising up the C-suite agenda as a critical business function.

A copy of the 17-70 report can be downloaded here: https://www.sagepeople.com/17-70/multigen-research/.

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