Australia is currently experiencing a unique workplace phenomenon. For the first time, our workplace comprises four different generations. Each of these generations hold different expectations of their employers and as such influence the HR needs and practices of every business. HR needs to be able to respond to the needs of all of these generations. Most remarked upon in recent times are the needs of Generation Y which are fast demanding an interactive and online HR environment.
The eldest group of workers that HR leaders must tailor their policies to are the Pre-Baby Boomers, also known as the Traditional Workers. This group tends to value loyalty and discipline. They also have a lot of respect for authority and hierarchy.
Then there is the Baby Boomer generation. This generation of workers occupy positions of high corporate responsibility. They are often perceived as a workaholic generation and uncomfortable using new technologies.
Next in line is the academic Generation X. This generation was the most educated of their time and values a more informal work environment with flatter management structures. For this generation, personal initiative is very important.
Generation Y workers are often likened to Baby Boomers because they too are innovative and entrepreneurial. They are characterised by being the most technologically savvy of the workforce generations.
However, they have also been characterised as being challenging to manage and lacking in loyalty. This can be attributed largely to the fact that Australia's Generation Y has not worked in an economy suffering significantly high unemployment.
Rather, today's skills shortage means Generation Y skills and labour are highly sought after. It is relatively easy for them to find alternative employment if they become displeased with their existing jobs or choose to drop in and out of 'traditional' employment.
As the older generations start withdrawing from the workplace - further increasing today's skills shortage - it is essential for today's businesses to adopt HR technologies, processes and practices that enable interaction with Generation Y.
To develop HR practices that suit Generation Y's requirements, you must understand what they are looking for from the work environment.
Corporate social responsibility is very important to Generation Y. This group of workers want to commit themselves to organisations with a social conscience, and also want to be able to dedicate a portion of their work time to these pursuits. Generation Y is also interested in ethical leadership and commitment and will hold leaders to account for their commitments and promises.
Generation Y is looking for workplace flexibility. This doesn't just mean flexibility within a 9am-5pm day, but extends itself to being able to have career breaks as personal interests arise. Despite the fact that these career breaks are often not related to the workplace, they are viewed as personal development opportunities, as well as career advancing moves.
Working with coaches and mentors is also an important employment requirement for Generation Y. Unlike Generation X who tend to rely on personal initiative to climb the career ladder, Generation Y are looking for the 'whole village' to help them achieve their goals, which may or may not be all career-or organisation-related.
Generation Y are very used to and comfortable with using technology in their personal lives, whether it be social media, internet banking, buying goods and services, reading books, playing games, managing travel or researching the latest and greatest things to do, see or experience. It is a common expectation therefore that workplace interactions, particularly with HR, are supported by technology that makes communication easy and data accessible.
Generation Y also appreciates genuine engagement from a company. Tech savvy organisations often create their own internal blogs and podcasts, and provide staff the ability to Web chat. These communication tools resonate with Generation Y staff who demand information that is accessible and intuitive.
The first interaction a potential Generation Y employee has with a company is during the recruitment process. Typically, the first thing the candidate will do is log on to Google and search for a job or a company they are interested in. If a company has sophisticated HR practices in place, the initial Google search results will include them. Business process outsourcing organisations can provide tailored, individual and scalable solutions to help companies find the best candidates, often before they have even applied for a position.
If a company has a blog or a YouTube channel, Generation Y will find it. It's important for companies to recognise that Generation Y candidates use social media to ensure they are well informed about their prospective employer's business prior to a job interview. This use of social media means that the power balance between the company and the interviewee has been altered.
Higher-performing organisations tend to embrace these new HR technologies, more often than lower performing ones. Embracing these technologies can lead to improved knowledge sharing and communication, increased participation and increased staff retention. So, what type of company is most attractive to Generation Y?
There's no denying that implementing HR policies that meet all of these groups' requirements can be difficult. Some streams of HR are better handled by external companies that specialise in this area. Many companies benefit from outsourcing some or all of these administrative HR processes to ensure their HR policies are aligned with different generations' requirements.
HR business process outsourcing specialists like IBM can provide interactive HR services that provide Generation Y with access to smart technology via an employee portal. This is the one place where employees can quickly and easily access company-specific information including: recruiting, learning, and talent management systems; and networking, collaboration, participation and knowledge-sharing tools.
Delivering more than just HR content, an employee portal is a useful means of engaging employees, supporting transparency and therefore ethical leadership. Providing broad access to people and information also helps staff achieve their career goals faster.
Outsourcing provides a valuable opportunity to put the employee and manager at the heart of HR interactions. IBM's focus is on delivering a high quality and consistent user experience, regardless of how or when employees and managers prefer to interact with their HR services. This exactly plays into the requirements of many generations, particularly Generation Y.
As older generations, such as the Baby Boomers, approach retirement over the next 10 to 20 years, the skills and labour shortage will worsen and continue to inhibit the growth of many Australian organisations. As such, it is critical that businesses adopt HR technologies, processes and policies that will attract Generation Y employees - an increasingly prized and talented resource.
About the author
Maree Mattner is the leader of HR and Learning Outsourcing in Australia & New Zealand for IBM Managed Business Process Services. Maree has more than 20 years operational management and consulting experience, specialising in back office processes, shared services and change management