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Managing today's multi-generational workforce

Members of Generation Y (those born between 1981 and 2000) are entering the workforce and, as a result - for the first time in history - today's workplace spans at least three generations.

In a nutshell, multiple generations can be found in most workplaces, which is not only a potential source of workplace friction, but also tricky for leaders and human resources (HR). Thus, it's really not something we can afford to ignore.

The trend of having at least three generations in most workplaces is evident everywhere. For example, most US organisations now consist of 67 per cent Gen Y employees, while Gen X (born between the mid-1960s and 1980) only make up 28 per cent and the Baby Boomers (born between 1945-1965) with even less at 5 per cent. Due to the recession, we're unlikely to see Baby Boomers retiring at rates previously expected, particularly those whose field of work requires expertise.

Multigenerational workplaces mean there are people with differences in terms of motivations, working styles, communication patterns and technological preferences working together towards the same objectives. The question is: how can we work with them with regards to those differences, while unity and success are our goals? To address this issue, leaders and HR staff will need to embed a lot of adaptation and flexibility into their strategies in order to not only attract but to retain talent from each generation. Here are the three suggested strategies to manage your multigenerational workforce.

Three strategies

For recruitment, organisations must find different approaches for attracting Gen Y and Gen X staff, as the former tend to work at the same place for merely two to four years on average before moving on to learn new things through new opportunities at different workplaces. Moreover, being tech-savvy by nature, they would normally post their resumes and professional qualifications online; thus, many companies now shift to recruitment agencies in feeding them candidates' applications throughout the year. In addition, organisations should have appropriate recruitment tools and selection procedures in place for Gen Y.

For example, an online assessment to evaluate a candidate's qualifications and knowledge might be used prior to an interview. As for Gen X, most companies would look for them to fill mid-level positions such as managers, executives and subject matter experts. The channel in recruiting them is, however, different than that of Gen Y, ie, organisations have to use a more formal way of recruiting Gen X as they are more concerned with the company's professionalism, stability, and income as the key requisites for their decisions.

Regarding staff retention, generally, Baby Boomers and Gen X would not change their jobs as long as their assigned roles, salaries, and work conditions are appropriate and flexible enough. On the other hand, Gen Y, which represents the greater proportion of the workforce, has a higher rate of turnover, as salary and compensation are no longer the sole important factors. Opportunities to learn, work-life balance, socialisation and teamwork are equally crucial. What needs to be done is, therefore, having different methods in retaining staff from various generations ranging from learning development programmes, career opportunities, scholarships for further studies, job rotation, as well as training and working overseas, etc.

In terms of building organisations' cultures - 80 per cent of leading organisations would focus on cultivating respect among different values, harmony in the workplace, and openness in accepting new ideas. These notions are all equally important in preventing conflict between generations, especially for multigenerational workplaces. For example, Gen Y would normally be perceived as lacking in patience, intolerant, irresponsible and undiplomatic, whereas Gen X and Baby Boomers are perceived as too formal, and lacking technological savvy. One solution for this problem is to organise sessions to share knowledge of how each generation thinks and acts differently and from this they could build a collective wisdom where everyone gets to hear different ideas and develops new and improved ways to work collaboratively.

Today's workplace will be radically different and the multigenerational workforce will genuinely transform how we work. Whether you're a company chief executive officer, a leader, an HR person or a hiring manager - this is a trend you simply cannot afford to miss or be late turning on to in order to keep the wheels on the bus with staff comprising three, or potentially four, age groups. Attracting and retaining talent needs continuous effort and that's why you should start managing your workforce today.

Thidarat Ariyaprasert is a senior business solutions development manager at APMGroup. You can contact her at thidarat_a@apm.co.th


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