The generational shift at work requires a new approach to HR

The workplace is undergoing a massive transformation due to the adoption digital technologies and widespread connectivity.  At the same time, there is a generational change.  Millennials, born after 1990, are typically more familiar with new technologies, but they also have motivational differences. They don’t view employment in the way their parents may have done. Consequently, the workplace needs to transform not just digitally, but also in how it relates to its younger members.

HR tends to be affected by socio-cultural trends – the way people live and the technologies they use directly affect their expectations and needs in the workplace.

One of the fundamental changes in recent times is the emergence of Millennials or Generation Y into the workplace. This generation is perhaps more comfortable with Snapchat that fax, will never have experienced work in the pre-internet era, who would prefer to use social media than conference call. This generation will represent half of the workforce by 2020 and three-quarters of it by 2025.

As such their expectations are high – they like collaborating, sharing, having fun and being part of a community – compared to older generation workers who have different motivations. Work-life balance expectations have changed and the notion of a defined career path is less clear – Millennials are keener to create their own start-ups for example and 72 percent of them would like to be their own boss - these are all elements that HR has to understand and respond to.

Millennials also have a different set of values. Traditional workforce mindset often focused purely on financial reward, but today’s generation rejects that: 92 percent of Millennials reject profit as the sole measure of performance (Deloitte, 2012, The Millennial Survey).

Their view of loyalty is also different. Surveyed in 2015, two-thirds of Millennials expressed a desire to leave their organizations by 2020 while 44 percent said that if given the choice, they would like to leave their present job in the next two years.

So the ‘job for life’ mentality possessed by older generations does not apply to Millennials. A further two-thirds of them cite personal development opportunities as a major criterion when choosing an employer. Something else for HR to think about and plan for.

The ‘employee as customer’ approach

To move with the times HR must also adjust its view of Millennials as simply ‘employees’. The more engaged nature of Generation Y means they see themselves as a customer or supplier to the company – they see it as more of a partnership and expect different levels of collaboration and participation accordingly.

According to a white paper by Orange’s HR teams, Oliver Wyman and Mercer, “New generations expect management practices to be more participative and collaborative, demand recognition and well-being in their work in addition to salary, and unabashedly defend their individual rights. By this yardstick, employees act like customers who expect the employer to provide a value proposition aligned with their aspirations.”

By 2020, there will be five generations coexisting in the workplace – placing pressure on HR to avoid organizational silos and generational rifts and manage all different age brackets effectively. What this ‘employee as customer’ mentality means for HR is that they must plan for organizations being flatter, more open and agile to cope with changing expectations.

How to manage this change?

With all of that in mind, how does HR manage this shift in workplace habits and expectations?

To begin with, there is the generational disparity of people and mentalities to embrace and manage. HR must encourage senior management to embrace the model of autonomous, collaborative teams that choose their own technologies and tools and corresponding processes. Empower younger workers and the company will see the benefit.

Management style will also have to change to suit tailored individual career paths, aspirations, and agendas – another challenge for HR to make happen. One of the fundamental drivers of digital transformation is agility – the ability of the individual to work how they want, where they want and when they want. So HR needs to work to ensure shared meaning, raison d’être and engagement in the workplace.

HR also needs to focus on facilitating employee personal development, a core value of Millennials. So invent new career paths different from traditional ones that focus on capabilities rather than mere employment and remuneration. Factor into this the need to establish more flexible organizations, teams and forms of employment to keep Generation Y workers more content and meet their expectations more. This can begin with accommodating different work practices, such as telecommuting and mobility – and moving forward from there.

To summarize, HR departments are going to need to embrace change and leverage digital technologies and work to integrate a whole new generation of workers into the organization.

Capability development is vital. Identifying key employee capabilities and supporting personal development over and above mere job descriptions will be essential. Encouraging employees to exercise autonomy, responsibility and initiative while also ensuring collective agility. Digitally empowered organizations that are streamlined and operating practices that encourage innovation and are those that will flourish. HR departments can be central to that.

Want to understand more about Millennial motivation?  Download the Orange white paper on the Future of HR. 

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.