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HR – Are You Really Ready for Five Generations in Your Workplace?

June 4, 2015 by Mike Ettling 28

It’s graduation time, and with it comes this reality: this year the first of the post-Millennial generation — the iGeneration — are off to college.

Which means more of us are soon to experience five generations working side by side. Recognize yourself?

  • Traditionalists, born prior to 1946
  • Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964
  • Gen X, born between 1965 and 1976
  • Millennials, also called Gen Y, born between 1977 and 1997
  • iGeneration, born after 1997

Not only will we work with people who could be our children, we’ll work with people who could be our grandchildren, even great-grandchildren.

And as I’ve talked about before, as have many others, with governments moving retirement age up, and older workers forced by the cost of living to stay in the workforce longer, age diversity will grow. According to our global research conducted with Oxford Economics, executives are not just concerned about Millennials, they’re thinking about how our aging workforce is affecting strategy. (Read my view on the recent moves made by the government of Japan.)

So what’s it mean? This is a huge opportunity for HR in leading business transformation for your CEO. Worth considering:

1. All talent matters

Millenials have been the talk of the business world, and for good reason – in under 10 years they will make up 75% of the global workforce. But talent management must focus on all talent, not just emerging talent. The ranks of the traditionalists and Baby Boomers is shrinking, and Gen X is too small to fill the gap. So to fill all positions, we all have to retain top talent, regardless of age. Which requires creativity and flexibility. Your Baby Boomer may seek a new experience to avoid becoming stale, your Gen X new mother may want a flexible work arrangement, short- or long-term, and your Millennial on his second job may be ready for an international assignment. If talent strategies don’t cover the age spectrum, I predict we’ll see more bidding wars for top talent. And that will require good data and analytics to recognize where gaps are emerging, what makes for a good employee fit, and how to retain the people you can’t afford to lose.

2. Make it personal

The internet has flipped the equation. With anywhere from 60%-90% of decision-making complete before we know a buyer wants to interact with us, the same holds true with potential employees. And from discovery to first contact to alumni status, people expect a personalized experience. So whether it’s the executive carefully recruited over a months to year-long process, or the new graduate who is welcomed by name every time she visits your website, HR needs to provide that range of customized experience. Today’s smart technology delivers the experience-focused solutions to attract, recruit, onboard, develop, and reward, at scale that feels like a 1:1 relationship.

3. Focus on flexibility

One of the great Millennial myths is that they care more about work/life balance than the rest of us. Our research, and experience, shows that the older you are, the more you value work/life balance, which increasingly means choice in schedule and place of work. Flexibility is king for attracting top talent. And modeling that has to come from the top, or you’ll end up with some managers who create a culture that attracts the best, and other managers who don’t. If that happens, your business stands to be crushed.

4. Double down on development

Globally, development is one of the top three factors for increasing loyalty and engagement for employees.  In the U.S., Millennials cite development as the greatest contributor to sticking around. But it’s not just them. Employees over 50 are three times more likely to consider leaving when feeling stalled by lack of learning and development opportunities. Yet when dollars are cut, training is often the first and deepest cut. It’s time to revisit what training budgets look like, and include investment in opportunities like rotational programs, fellowships, mentoring and reverse-mentoring programs. Not only will you retain more people, you’ll be minding the generational gaps, to take an expression from my London underground.

5. Get social

If you still worry that older workers shy away from technology, especially social media, you are missing the boat. Our research shows that all ages care equally about having up to date technology and access to social media at work. What better way for people to connect on a social business networking platform, sharing in communities of practice, participating in group mentoring, or commenting on shared projects?

6. Design porous salary grades

I think one word that defines our career journey today is fluid. But we’re still in an age when salary grades tend to be fairly rigid, with an up or out approach. Think about yourself – and your people – many of us have times in our lives when we wish we could we step back or step up maybe it’s the new father who wants to contribute more at home. Maybe it’s the executive who is considering a technical fellow role as she considers new, less traditional ways to contribute over the long haul. Maybe it’s the retired alumna considering returning as an internal consultant. Addressing these realities means addressing our traditional view of comp, benefits, even career bands.

HR can create awareness and challenge old thinking. Grab this brilliant opportunity to lead the way in preparing organizations for the future of work. Starting now.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.
Photo: Shutterstock

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