For the first time in history organisations are facing the very real prospect of having five generations of employees working shoulder-to-shoulder in the workplace. Theoretically speaking this means that businesses could now have employees ranging between 18 and 80. This has huge implications for employers in terms of managing the needs and expectations of the different generations, which currently includes Millennials, Generation X and the Baby Boomers. This is an even greater issue for organisations that employ a large number of workers and I believe it is important to look at how they can not only lead but engage a multi-generational workforce.
For example, the UK public sector currently has over 5 million employees ranging from apprentices to CEOs, each of which will have different aspirations and motivations. In order for the workforce to thrive, it is important to recognise these differences, and ensure they are catering to the needs of the different demographics within each organisation.
The age of the Millennial worker
Of the five generations currently working, Millennials will hold the clear majority in the very near future. Current projections indicate that Millennials could form up to 50 percent of the world’s population by 2020, meaning that it is no longer desirable, but imperative for organisations to think about methods to integrate Millennials with their existing workforce. Each of these generations will want different things out of an employer, and although Millennials will be in the majority it is important to consider each employee and each generation to ensure productivity does not diminish.
Millennials’ career aspirations, attitudes about work and level of comfort with new technologies is likely to define the culture of the 21st-century workplace, and some organisations may have to alter their recruitment and retention strategies to cater for this ever growing workforce. Organisations will need to look carefully at what it is Millennials are looking for, and then tailor this to ensure it caters to the other generations currently working within their organisation. Millennials tend to be uncomfortable with a rigid corporate structure and strive for rapid progression, a varied and interesting career and constant feedback. This generally means that Millennials want a management style and corporate culture that is more flexible, which may be a challenge if organisations are still using more traditional attraction and engagement methods.
However this is a real opportunity for public sector organisations to develop and grow technologically. They should work with their millennial workforce to build systems and put processes in place that will allow them to continue to grow and flourish in today’s highly modern society. This is not to say the traditional methods should be lost, but adapted to suit. For example, technology isn’t always at the forefront with some organisations. This new wave of millennial workers could hold the key to this, and by working with more experienced staff members I believe they could further help integrate technology and digital processes across the public sector.
The challenges of engaging a multi-generational workforce
One of the biggest challenges I feel facing the public sector during this time is training and development, especially as digital becomes ever more prominent. The CIPD’s Tapping into Talent report found that different generations had different preferences towards training and development. The report found that Generation X and Millennial workers place greater emphasis on development and prefer to learn independently, often using computer-based training or the Internet. Baby Boomers and Veterans, however, prefer more traditional classroom or paper-based training. This difference in learning styles could pose a challenge for public sector organisations that are not prepared or do not have the budget to accommodate different learning styles.
My advice would be to introduce mentoring schemes and peer learning workshops along with the normal training and development that is required for the role. This way employees at all levels can
learn from each other, ensuring skills are transferred and productivity is not impacted. Up-skilling employees and bringing them up to speed with digital and technological advancements in some cases whilst still enabling/maintaining more traditional, interpersonal skills in others. This would also help to ensure that information is not lost in preparation for senior members of staff retiring and leaving full-time employment.
Catering to the needs of a multi-generational workforce
Within the public sector, I believe there is also potential for negative stereotyping as different generations begin working together. Experienced workers may perceive Millennial as ‘tech-obsessed’ or too eager to challenge norms while millennial employees could see the existing workforce as being ‘stuck in their ways’ and difficult to train. This could be alleviated by the introduction of mentoring schemes, but can only work if managers are prepared for such instances.
Well trained and highly experienced management style will be essential and one of the best ways of bridging the gap between different generations. Investing in identifying different motivators and understanding how to cater to this day-to-day is crucial as a one-size-fits-all approach will not be enough. Of course, it is impossible to guess what will happen as all of these people from different backgrounds start working together. This uncertainty means that some flexibility will be needed. If a good management structure is in place, then future challenges/risks to the team structure can be addressed with employers early enough to ensure that enough is being done to cater to every generational need.