The Impact of a Multigenerational Workforce on HR Practices

Image: The Impact of a Multigenerational Workforce on HR Practices

Your Workforce: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y

If you look around your office today, you will probably see a diverse mix of age ranges working together – from experienced, seasoned employees to young, recent graduates. A young colleague may be part of the senior leadership team, or an experienced employee may be working on the front line. The composition of who does what in your organization is changing.

There are four generations in your workplace: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. Each cohort has different values, behaviours and expectations. Your organization needs to understand the expectations and you need to ensure that your human resource practices will actually engage each generational cohort.

Values translate into different behaviours and expectations

All four generations are loyal, respect authority and demonstrate a work ethic. The difference between the generations is how we define each of these values. These differences translate into varying behaviours and expectations that employees have of organizations and managers. For example, Baby Boomers are loyal to the team and they will sacrifice for the good of their functional team. Gen Ys are loyal to their peer group, so they will want to work in organizations where they can create a “pack” or work with their friends. Traditionalists have a very formal view of authority – if you have the title, you have the authority. Gen Xers give someone authority when that person demonstrates competency and Gen Ys see everyone from the CEO down to front-line as a peer.

So what do organizations and leaders need to think about as it relates to human resources practices?

Analyse HR practices through a generational lens: Example – recruitment

The first step is to look at your recruitment, retention, leadership and succession planning programs from the perspectives of each generation. For example, if your hiring practices take months, if the interviews are stiff and formal in nature, if you don’t encourage a prospective hire to speak to other employees within your organization that they would be working with, then the odds are you won’t be as attractive to Gen Ys. Once you understand generational perspectives, you will be able to analyse your job ads and be able to determine which generation will be attracted to your organization and why. Interviewers also need to realise they will be evaluating candidate responses to questions through their own generational lens.

For example if a Baby Boomers asks a Gen Y “where do you intend to be in five years?” and the Gen Y says “running a dive shop in Turks & Caicos,” the Baby Boomer should realise that that Gen Y might still be a high-performing employee. The Baby Boomer should realise that in this day and age, employees are not guaranteed to be around forever, rather the Baby Boomer has to evaluate whether or not that Gen Y can be a productive employee for the next few years.

Use the principles of organizational engagement to create integrated HR practices

At n-gen, we state that you are not going to have engaged employees unless you demonstrate that your organization and all of its leaders are engaged. The characteristics of organizational engagement are transparency, responsiveness and partnering. These characteristics of transparency, responsiveness and partnering serve as the framework by which you can evaluate and build your people practices.

Throughout the entire employee life-cycle, from recruitment, orientation, total rewards, employee brand promise, career-pathing, learning and development, mentoring, performance management and succession planning, ask yourself “how can we be more transparent, responsive and partnering in our practices?”

For example, in your recruitment process, do you ask what employees are looking to receive by working with you? This action demonstrates partnering because it acknowledges that employees are investors in your organization. You are demonstrating an appreciation of the fact that they are choosing to invest their knowledge, skills, time and effort in your organization. At the same time, do you proactively manage employee expectations during the hiring process? By being clear about what you can and cannot offer, you demonstrate transparency and responsiveness.

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