By Tong Chee Leong, Country Manager, Malaysia, Citrix Systems, Inc
For the first time in history, due to an increase in life expectancy and extension of retirement age, workforces now comprise of up to four distinct generations, which can present a range of associated business challenges. Multi-generational workforces are now a norm in Malaysia, thus it is crucial that businesses adapt accordingly, or risk significant productivity, engagement and retention issues.
There is no doubt that the digital revolution has had a huge impact on how and where we work, with technological innovations creating new industries and business models. However, traditional working norms are evolving – with Millennials, Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers possessing varying levels of digital literacy, interests and behavioural needs.
Each generation brings with it a unique skillset, leadership style, work-life balance perception and communication attitude shaped by historical events, economic conditions and popular culture. This diversity can be advantageous for companies, subsequently fostering creativity and expanding the approaches to problem solving.
This was further proven when HAKUHODO Institute of Life and Living (HILL) ASEAN reported in their latest “ASEAN MILLENNIALS: One Size Fits All? A Generation Gap in ASEAN” that the history; economics, politics, globalisation and the rapid development of digital technology, have impacted the work ethics of each of the mentioned generation.
The Baby Boomers understand that the world is uncertain and as a result they actively try to stick to the known, minimise risk and maximise opportunities for themselves, while the Gen X, Y and Millennials are much more willing to take on potentially risky challenges and are much more or less likely to make distinctions between their professional and personal lives .
However, this disparity can also create problems for C-suite and HR executives, as they struggle to create compelling and collaborative work environments that make all employees feel valued and treated fairly, regardless of their generation.
TalentCorp and PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) shared a breakdown of employees in their “Diversity in the Workplace 2015” survey of Malaysian listed companies. There were 33% of employees in their 20s; 34% in their 30s; 20% in their 40s; 12% in their 50s and only 1% aged 60 years and above.
However, the risk of disconnect between leadership and workforce arises especially when the 1% (who are 60 years old and above) account for 49% of board members; 22% of chief executive officers (CEOs) and 13% of top management .
To avoid organisational conflict, employee turnover and a loss of productivity, companies must be aware of the strengths, values, motivations and limitations each generation brings to a workplace.
For example, Baby Boomers have amassed a wealth of industry knowledge, but having adapted to technology throughout their working lives, approach technology in an extremely different way to millennials, and other digital natives, that have never known work or in some cases everyday life without technology. This means companies have to consider a range of personal experiences, learning curves and adaptive approaches to introducing new workplace technology and related training.
Looking more in-depth at digital natives and Millennials, although they possess the tech-savvy skills that today’s workforce requires, other factors start to come into play. For example, they often do not want to conform to traditional employment arrangements such as one office location, favouring the ‘work anywhere’ mentality. They also favour solutions that are more collaborative, customisable and instant.
Ultimately, future proofed workplaces must learn to ‘bridge this generational divide’ in order to tap into the vast opportunities this new development presents and combat the associated challenges.
There are various ways to boost staff engagement and productivity across the modern organisation:
- Integrate technology and training
With inter-generational teams present in the workplace, each with their own respective skill sets and strengths, technology should be used to support productivity regardless of work style. To ensure all employees are able to fully maximise these technologies, companies should offer training sessions that appeal to all learning styles; face-to-face workshops, e-learning courses and even peer-to-peer mentoring programs.
- Promote flexibility
Having a workplace and IT set up that accounts for, and promotes different working styles will enable businesses to get the most out of every employee, regardless of where and how they are working. Introducing flexibility in technology and working conditions will allow companies to create an inclusive workforce that is both productive and progressive.
- Secure digital work spaces
With flexibility enabled, security must also be considered critical. Companies must enable their employees to securely access their apps, data and company networks with ease, while ensuring that company data is not compromised. Different generations will approach a company’s digital revolution differently and by having a secure digital work space that provides for each generation and their technology needs, ultimately it will further business productivity.
- Foster communication
Understanding the different working styles and what the new digital reality means to the different generations can help build respect and communication within teams. Hosting training and team building days which highlight generational styles can encourage greater levels of dialogue and disperse outdated stereotypes.
- Optimise the work environment
Focusing on the future of work and adapting to the needs of different generations in the workforce, businesses must consider how to optimise the work environment. Businesses that take into consideration a secure digital work space, geared to encourage productivity, regardless of location, device or network; in addition to a new view on the physical workplace, as a location for collaboration, brainstorming, co-working and team building. Changing the view on the physical office will also allow optimisation in terms of footprint and facilities cost, as we look at the future of work.