Achieving Success With a Modern, Multi-Generational Workforce

October 3, 2019 Iris Loke

Today, nearly every organization out there is evaluating their culture because of changing workforce demographics. Millions of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) will retire from the workplace over the next few years with millennials set to (born between early 1980s to 1996) make up the majority of the workforce and Generation Z (born between 1997 and early 2010s) just beginning to enter the workforce.

In recent years,  culture is no longer just a perk, it has become integral to their organization’s success and continuity. Companies that fail to acknowledge this are faced with numerous issues such as high turnover rates, low morale, and even business failure. To make things even trickier, this also comes in a time where there is an unrelenting pace of technological innovation.

In order to attract and retain employees in today’s war for talent, employers are constantly wondering if they are on the right track in modernizing their culture. I had the opportunity to witness the workforce transform over the past 20 years across three regions and in this post, I’ll be sharing how organizations can manage the different expectations in a workforce consisting of different generations and the ingredients of success for a modern workforce.  

Finding The Middle Ground For All

Each generation possesses its own set of unique characteristics. For example, Generation Z is the first generation that will not remember a time when the internet did not exist while baby boomers may face challenges in the use of digital solutions. To achieve its goals as a united front, organizations must establish a culture in which everyone is comfortable and accepting of each other. Take something as simple as office attire. While the younger generation may be more receptive to the sight of colleagues walking around in hoodies and jeans, the older generation may view this as unacceptable having worked solely in environments where only formal wear is accepted in the office.

There really isn’t a single template for success with each company’s cultural transformation having its own unique set of opportunities and constraints. However, regardless of industry, the heart of a strong, modern culture lies in empathy, education, and openness. Efforts must be made to ensure everyone in the organization is fully aware of an organization’s culture, the rationale behind it and the encouragement of employees to do their part. Using the same office attire example, HR leaders could look to explain that casual attire is allowed in order to establish a more relaxed work environment and make employees as comfortable as possible.

Pivotal Foundation of a Modern Workforce

Having established what’s necessary to harmonize a workforce of varied generations, the next step is to lay the foundation that will bring the best out of employees. Specifically, a modern workforce culture is one in which employees:

  • Feel inspired and motivated to thrive

  • Feel psychologically safe to experiment, fail, and be vulnerable

  • Feel they are constantly growing

Let’s unpack each of these and explore the possible solutions organizations can employ. 

1. Employees Must Feel Inspired and Motivated to Thrive

Inspiration enables employees to achieve incredible results. To inspire is to personally connect at the deepest of levels. In addition to an organization’s purpose, value or the opportunity to work on fascinating projects, inspiration can also originate from an employee’s everyday experience including the manner their colleagues spread engagement, encouragement, and empowerment. 

With inspiration being an infectious energy, organizations can look at implementing regular team lunches and companywide gatherings for the exchange of ideas to occur and the development of closer bonds in which everyone views each other as more than just colleagues. All of this ensures inspiration remains ever-present in the work environment.

2. Employees Must Feel Psychologically Safe

Many companies promote a “hero culture” in which employees are singled out for praise. Unfortunately, a hero culture often results in other employees feeling that they must emulate that “hero” in order to be perceived as strong performers. This leads to the loss of individuality and discourages employees from being open, asking questions, and expressing concern for fear they will be viewed as inferior. Deep listening and empathy are also lost in such environments. This ultimately results in cognitive and emotional stress, and eventually resignation. 

As an alternative, organizations should constantly pursue the creation of a safe and inclusive environment. Achieving such is the joint responsibility of everyone especially those at the top where leaders are often deemed as role models. Such an environment can be achieved by conducting training sessions in small intimate groups that address topics such as unconscious bias, micro-aggressions, blind spots, equitable opportunity, and pay. It is also important to keep in mind that such trainings have to be ongoing and long-term in order to be effective.

In addition, the fear to fail or get criticized plays a large role in deterring employees from taking risks. There is no innovation without risk and organizations face the possibility of decreased innovation levels if an unsafe culture is established. 

3. Employees Must Feel They Are Constantly Growing

Roles, especially in larger organizations, tend to be specialized. If you’re in software development, you will largely be taking on only software development-related tasks. Such an approach isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, employees hardly step out of their comfort zones or develop new skills – inevitably leading to a one-dimensional growth. This also comes at a time in which our attention span has become shorter than ever and employees are more likely to get bored quicker if they’re constantly doing the same thing repeatedly.

As author John Maxwell said, “Growth equals change. If you want to get better, you have to keep changing and improving. That means stepping out into new areas.” Employees must be encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and try out other disciplines in order to achieve a growth that is multi-dimensional. Organizations can look at allocating a period of “working time” for employees to pursue a different role internally or training programs that are not related to their present role. Such an approach will not only result in personal and career growth but even help organizations discover hidden talent gems in their employees. 

Wrapping Up

Building a modern workforce culture is no easy task but it can be done even at the most traditional companies. 

Employees thrive when they can innovate and create. They feel a sense of accomplishment when they obtain results and bring value to others. In a time where continuous learning is expected, the process has become as important as the result and it is factors like these that ultimately serves the higher purpose that employees yearn for today.

About the Author

Iris Loke is the Director of APJ People at Pivotal.

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