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Five generations, one workforce: Leveraging data analytics to better understand employees

(Image credit: Image Credit: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens)

With the average age of workers in western economies being 40-50 years old, and the growth rate of those in the 55-years-and-older demographic increasing roughly three times that of the overall labour force, we are seeing the rapid emergence of a new phenomenon: five very different generations of employees co-existing in the same workforce. Broadly, these are Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation.

Adding to this, the Covid-19 global pandemic has turned the world of work on its head, presenting vast, complex, and varied challenges for organisations and employees alike. Due to the unique differences of these generations, each are coping with the ramifications of the pandemic differently. Employers recognising this - especially the small yet important aspects - and addressing it in their operations and overall management will be the ones that see success in terms of a more engaged, productive and loyal workforce.

In the pre-pandemic world and even more so post-pandemic, it’s clear that workplace diversity – in terms of age, gender, ethnic background and other factors – is a critical factor in shaping organisational culture. For example, younger workforce demographics are increasingly marked by far more gender and ethnic diversity than ever before, and possess different values and expectations of their employer then that of their older colleagues.

To fully unlock employee potential and to gain essential business value from increased workforce diversity, leaders must make more effective use of modern workforce management and human capital management (HCM) technologies, empowering individuals to work in ways that best suit them.

Unlocking the benefits of a multigenerational workforce

Gaining a deeper understanding of the multigenerational workforce and unlocking the potential benefits of workplace diversity is one of the most compelling challenges facing today’s business leaders.

The simple fact is that Millennials and Gen Zers will become increasingly dominant as we move through the next decade. Hence, it is crucial that employers better understand how and why these generational cohorts have a number of very different characteristics, needs and working habits to their predecessors.

Our recent survey from The Workforce Institute and Future Workplace, “How to Be an Employer of Choice for Gen Z: Fulfilling the Next-generation Workplace Wish List” clearly shows how younger generations in today’s workforce desire a far greater sense of fulfilment in their jobs. While attitudes will have undoubtedly changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the overarching premise of this research remains, with the findings still hugely relevant to what drives different generations. For example, Gen Zers (ages 16-25) entering the workforce prioritise pay, flexibility and stability when looking for work.

Additionally, working at the same company for their entire career is a thing of the past. Gen Z is just starting out professionally and feel that they have much to gain from testing the waters at numerous companies and across different industries. So motivating members of this youngest generation requires considerably different strategies to those used in the past for Gen X, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation.

Our survey notes: “When asked what would make them work harder and stay longer at a company, Gen Zers say doing work that they enjoy or care about is as important as a paycheque, which are the two top motivations cited by about half of respondents worldwide (both 51 per cent).”

Conversely, a stressful work environment will do the opposite for Gen Z workers, with nearly half (48 per cent) saying that stress at work would directly impact performance, and one in three (33 per cent) stating very clearly that they would never tolerate working in a dysfunctional team.

Today’s employers need to create a working culture where employees both young and old feel supported, inspired, and equally empowered to enjoy life in and outside of work. This is particularly pertinent in today’s environment in which there are added stresses caused by the current crisis. This should encourage many of the best young employees to “boomerang” back to the company after leaving to try out a new role - creating brand ambassadors for the future.

The survey also makes one fundamental point crystal clear: employee desires and preferences are just as diverse as the workforce itself. Being able to tap into these finer details – whether it be an appetite for a positive work-life balance or a supportive working environment – is essential in building an engaged workforce.

Employee experience + engagement = business success

When it comes to engaging frontline employees, it is increasingly critical that managers are trained in how the changing nature of employee expectations and their overall experience impacts the level of engagement with their work. It’s easy for employers to focus too much on the concept of employee engagement and put cart before the horse so to speak, because engagement numbers are a good barometer, but they are not the journey. A good employee experience leads to positive engagement, which results in business success.

As work environments continue to open and adapt to the new regulations resulting from Covid-19, it will be especially important for HR departments and managers to understand what the varying expectations of the workforce are, how they have changed in light of the pandemic, and how HCM technologies will be fundamental in facilitating these expectations. For example, one must not immediately assume that an employee cannot work flexibly because he or she has a role that requires presence. Flexibility also involves rethinking what work is done, how it is done, and by whom, and if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that both individuals and organisations are incredibly adaptable.

Additionally, flexibility need not mean a lack of stability and this is an area that employers will have to be additionally careful with going forward in order to ensure employees feel confident and secure in their role. Even Gen Zers feel that flexible-yet-stable schedules are a must and while the pandemic has proved that flexibility can be done, employees will want an element of stability in the coming months as we face economic uncertainty. In our survey 1 in 5 Gen Zers said that they want a consistent and predictable schedule (21 per cent) yet also expect employers to offer flexibility (23 per cent).

When chasing the ‘holy grail’ of maximum employee engagement, the latest workforce management technologies are a game-changer in creating a positive employee experience, resulting in improved employee engagement and ultimately, business success. These tools help employees to communicate better with their managers, giving them greater control over their work and holiday schedules, and freeing up valuable time by reducing the administrative burden through automation.

Adopting an analytical approach to your workforce

As AI and ML technologies continue to advance, workforce management systems are rapidly increasing in sophistication. These technologies have increasingly deep analytical capabilities, enabling organisations to gain a much more thorough understanding of what makes every single one of their employees tick, no matter their age, gender, ethnicity or background.

To take full advantage of these innovations, business leaders are increasingly opting for advanced versions of HCM technologies to enable them to carry out in-depth analysis of the vast pools of data that organisations now have on their employees.

Through automating and simplifying the process of making sense of this ocean of data, businesses can make timely, accurate, and company-specific decisions to help solve critical HR issues such as absence, shift scheduling, or gauging employee morale.

Such insights can then be used to tailor operational strategies accordingly so that their employees are working in a way that suits their individual needs.

Transform the employee experience: flexibility for all

The bottom line is this: success in business means keeping today’s and tomorrow’s increasingly diverse, multigenerational workforce happy and engaged at all times. It is vital to understand that the current employee landscape is punctuated by a growing desire for flexibility, balance and an emphasis on worker welfare – areas that have only grown in importance in the Covid-19 world.

Technology – with a much closer focus on the data analytics tools for employee engagement – is instrumental in helping organisations understand the desires and expectations of staff of all ages and background more fully, and giving business leaders and managers a much more thorough grasp of what makes every single of their employees happy.

Chris Mullen, director of strategic HR advisory, Kronos