Managing a multi-generational workforce: Can HR find a balance?

multi-generational workforce

Failure to implement a generation-specific talent management strategy is the biggest mistake businesses make in managing a multi-generational workforce, according to a recent research report.

It found that half of business owners do not have any generation-specific talent management strategies to handle a multi-generational workforce, while there is also a significant disconnect between what employers believe to be the best strategies for each generation and what Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers and traditionalists actually want.

“Today’s workforce is made up of four generations,” said Cameron Judson, CEO of HR and recruitment agency Chandler Macleod, which conducted the research report.

“A 20-year-old employee can find themselves working alongside colleagues who are older than they are by 50 years or more due to longer lifespans and delayed retirement.

“It’s clear that engagement and management strategies designed for the traditionalist generation, should be reworked for millennials.

“And while it seems this is common knowledge, only half of businesses are actually putting tailored strategies in place,” he said.

“More fundamental to the problem is that employers don’t seem to understand the needs of a multi-generational workforce”

The report, Talent Management: The next wave, which surveyed 233 senior managers, leaders and specialists and 287 employees across Australia and New Zealand, found that half of business owners don’t have any generation specific talent management strategies.

“More fundamental to the problem is that employers don’t seem to understand the needs of a multi-generational workforce,” said Judson.

“Our research found although 17 per cent of employers believe social media is an effective strategy to manage millennials, only 1 per cent of millennials saw this as effective in practice.”

In addition, the report found that two out of three (67 per cent) employers are using data driven analysis or big data to make talent management decisions.

And while almost half agree that analysis of big data will evolve HR into a strategic function of the organisation, only 13 per cent of employers are calling big data a ‘disruptive force’ within HR.

Workplace flexibility falls short of the mark
The report also found flexible work arrangements should be a key consideration for employers looking to engage their multi-generational workforce, with all four generations indicating flexibility is a priority.

Just over three-quarters of employers agree that flexible working arrangements provide a positive return on investment, however, they are divided as to its impact on productivity.

Opinion is divided on the topic, with one third of employers stating there is an inverse relationship between flexible work arrangements and productivity – but another 39 per cent don’t believe such a connection exists.

“With new technology and the potential for remote talent to fill skills gaps, businesses are creating more flexible work environments but employers need to ensure productivity isn’t compromised,” said Judson.

“The strategies used to motivate and engage workers are vital to a productive and successful workforce.”

The report also found employers and employees are out of step regarding what works when it comes to talent management.

For millennial employees, employers focus on development, regular goal setting and continuous review of talent, however millennials rate the provision of flexible work conditions twice as effective as these strategies.

There is also a growing desire from employees of all ages within a multi-generational workforce to work for organisations with a solid reputation, reward for performance, clear career trajectory and a culture of collaboration.

More than 90 per cent of employees consider it important that their workplaces provide some greater purpose than making money, and 33 per cent of employers have reshaped their talent management practices to include a greater focus on meaning.

The report also highlighted a disconnect between employer and employee perceptions regarding engagement with offsite staff. While organisations have a range of strategies in place to manage offsite employees, many offsite staff are not aware of these.

Despite this, both employers and employees believe those who work offsite are more motivated than their onsite counterparts (22 per cent more motivated compared with 14 per cent less motivated).