Generational talent management

In today’s workforce there are four generations working side by side – Veterans (60+), Baby Boomers (42-60), Generation X (26-41) and Generation Y (13-26).

Each of these generations has different attitudes and expectations about their jobs and careers. The generation entering the workforce, Generation Y (Gen-Yers), is increasingly different in some high-impact ways.

Often they just don’t fit the expectations of today’s leaders. In order for companies to fully benefit from the skills and perspectives of the new workforce, they must incorporate a Gen-Y outlook into their cultures and fabric.

Generational differences have real implications for how employers and employees work together. Each generation brings a different set of attitudes to the job.

Research shows that Baby Boomers put a heavy focus on work as an anchor in their lives, and Gen Xers enjoy work, but are more concerned about work/life navigation.

The Gen Yers now entering the workforce have very different priorities than the past three generations: because of their reliance on technology, they believe they can work flexibly anytime, anywhere and that they should be evaluated on work product, not on how, when or where they got it done.

Surprisingly, they want long-term relationships with employers, but on their own terms. The real revolution is a decrease in career ambition in favour of more family time, less travel and less personal pressure. In addition, Gen Xers and Gen Yers were raised in a consumer economy and expect to influence the terms and conditions of the job. Since family is a top priority for both, it’s not surprising that work/life balance is an important consideration for them.

Technology: the generational divides intensify

Gen Xers and Gen Yers are the first generations to grow up with computers and the Internet as part of their lives.

Constant experience in the networked world has had a profound impact on their approach to problem-solving and collaboration.

While Baby Boomers see video games as diversions or toys, for Gen Xers and Gen Yers they are something distinctly different. The next generation of workers is coming into the workforce with networking, multiprocessing, and global-mindedness skills that their elders never could have imagined.

Experience with interactive media such as instant messaging, text messaging, blogs, and especially multi-player games has led many young people to develop new skills, new assumptions and new expectations about their employers. Current research suggests, for example, that gaming can be excellent preparation for business. Serious gamers (Gen Xers and Gen Yers) are likely to be:

• More skilled at multi-tasking;

• Agile in making decisions, evaluating risks and managing dilemmas;

• Flexible and persistent in the face of change; and

• Highly skilled in social networking and team activities.

But employees with these traits can also present a management challenge:

• They may be keen on winning and eager to experiment and work as a team to solve problems, but they are not inclined to follow leaders just because they are leaders;

• They are energetic and hungry for stimuli, but have a strong desire to be in a relationship with an employer as long as possible;

• They have distaste for what they perceive as menial work; and

• They may just avoid difficult people, instead of engaging with them constructively.

Gen Y Expectations

Compared with earlier generations, Gen Yers bring a different set of expectations to the workplace. They expect:

• To work with positive people (Gen Y responds poorly to those who act in an authoritarian manner and/or who expect to be respected due to higher rank alone);

• To be challenged (Gen Y believes it can learn quickly, take on significant responsibility and make major contributions far sooner than Baby Boomers think);

• To be treated respectfully (Gen Y has been raised to feel valuable and very positive about themselves; they see as a sign of disrespect any requirement to do things just because this is the way it has always been done or to pay one’s dues);

• To learn new knowledge and skills (Gen Y sees repeating tasks as a poor use of their energy and time and an example of not being taken seriously);

• To work in friendly environments (Gen Y responds poorly to inflexible hierarchical organisations and responds best to more networked, less hierarchical organisations);

• To have flexible schedules (‘the technology permits it, so why not? – evaluate me on output not input- on the work product itself, not where or when or how I do the work’); and

• To be paid well (Gen Y does not want to be taken advantage of; does not have sufficient trust in businesses to make good on promises of lots of money someday in the distant future).

Gen Yers prefer to learn in networks, team or swarms (a leaderless group that is based on the use of technology; an example is the use of text messaging by teens at a mall).

They prefer to learn using multi-media while being entertained and excited. Gen Yers also want to learn experientially (business simulations are becoming the next wave in games which can help familiarize young people with a business previously unknown to them. Simulations offer the opportunity to track skill development and open a new source of talent tracking and recruitment).

Communication for this new generation is expected to be positive, respectful, motivational, electronic and in-person if the message is very important. Leadership will have to adjust their styles to meet Gen Yers expectations of being managed respectfully, allow flexibility, providing them with opportunities to work with friends (people with complementary skills and who are simpatico are better at solving problems and more productive). They also expect to be challenged yet have fun at their jobs.

Businesses that approach the talent pool from a generational perspective and begin to adjust their values and culture to meet the flood of new generations entering the workforce will be more successful in attracting and retaining people than those that do not.

Deloitte’s Talent Management framework of Develop-Deploy-Connect sets out a guide for businesses to address these generational differences. For more information, please contact Karie Bergstrom, Senior Manager-Human Capital Consulting.

Karie Bergstrom is Senior Manager in the Deloitte Human Capital Consulting Department. She is an accomplished Human Resources professional with significant experience in HR consulting, organisational transformation, career development, training and recruitment. Her experience incorporates international exposure in various business sectors including public sector, tourism, financial services industry and manufacturing. She is a member of the Society of Human Resources Management and the American Society of Training and Development.