With the world undergoing rapid change since the advent of the digital age, HR departments are well aware of the need to prepare for the oncoming wave of new generation employees. Technology aside, today’s workforce faces a dynamic new employment environment.
South Africa, like many developing nations, is a young country. People younger than 35 years old make up about 66% of the total population and around half of our people are aged under 25. As businesses, one of the largest challenges we face is catering for this population’s expectations of the workplace
BBQ spoke to Sandra Swanepoel, Managing Director at SAGE HR and Payroll, about the next generation workforce and how companies and HR departments can start preparing for the employee of the future.
According to Swanepoel, “South Africa’s young population is one of its biggest assets in a world where many developed nations are growing older in terms of their demographics. They are optimistic, tech-savvy, collaborative and mobile-first in how they approach the world. They tend to be more free-spirited than earlier generations and often resist authoritarian management styles. And they are socially conscious, and eager to feel like they’re making a difference.
“We need to accommodate people from three different generations, each of them bringing a unique perspective and a different style of working in the office. One challenge is to create business processes, management structures, and technology that accommodates them all and empowers them to collaborate. Just one example: your older employees want to meet face to face, Generation X employees love email, while Generation-Y would rather use social networking or instant messaging. How do we bridge the gap?” Swanepoel says.
Looking at the important role technology plays in today’s workplace, Swanepoel says millennials grew up in a digital world so they are comfortable with technology. “They are keen to use it to solve problems and communicate with other people. They tend to be quick learners when you implement a new device or software solution, but they are impatient with clunky, inelegant software.”
Swanepoel says instead, millennials look for software to be as intuitive as the mobile and social media tools they use every day. She says the technology young people have grown up with is simple, attractively designed, mobile, and accessible 24/7. This has changed how they work and collaborate, so we also need to think about the impact on our business processes.
As Swanepoel explains, the average South African workplace today needs to accommodate people of all ages coming from a range of backgrounds in terms of class, ethnicity, culture and race. She says because of the country’s past, people from different backgrounds and of different ages have had very different experiences of the world, and this influences their outlook and how they work.
“The born-frees have a healthy respect for diversity and a strong belief in inclusion across the lines of race and gender. Managers can learn a great deal from listening to their diverse employees---this will help them create a working environment and products that meet the needs of a complex country. By accepting one another and embracing shared goals and values in the workplace, we can create happier, more productive and more innovative businesses,” she says.
It has also been noted that millennials value and need feedback in real-time as opposed to a mechanistic report once every now and then. So how does this sort of engagement create a more intimate bond between the young employee and his/her company or team? According to Swanepoel, one implication is that companies need to start moving away from the old annual performance review cycle and mind-set to a new paradigm that delivers constant feedback. Evaluating performance, setting rewards, setting career progression goals and improving capability are all becoming more agile, as we can see from companies like Accenture scrapping annual performance reviews.
Constant employee engagement is important. Swanepoel says tools such as employee self-service can reduce paperwork for the HR department while delivering better service to the workforce. Employees---especially millennials---want dealing with an employer to be as easy as banking online or via a mobile app. She says when people can apply for leave, fill in expense claims and pick up payslips online, everyone wins from the gains in efficiency and convenience.
But the transition from school to workplace is not easy for many young people. Swanepoel says in today’s society many young people are robbed of a stable home environment and the opportunity for a rounded education. Employers need to help close this gap if they want their young employees to grow and thrive in their businesses. She says this may involve providing support and education beyond the traditional role of the employer. According to Swanepoel, some areas of interest, depending on the business and the profile of the workforce, might include:
- alcohol and drug abuse;
- interpersonal skills;
- finances and budgeting;
- mental health (depression, stress, burnout etc.);
- HIV/AIDS education and counseling; and
- cultural sensitivity.
It has further been observed that today’s youth, particularly those who have completed tertiary education, value a more flexible working environment than their older counterparts. Swanepoel says many millennials value work-life balance as much as money, so companies can attract them by offering flexible hours, paid time-off and telecommuting opportunities. According to her they have grown up with mobile devices and social media, so they expect the freedom that this technology can give them.
She does however mention that flexible working arrangements are not a suitable fit for every job role, and companies do need to ensure they have technology, business processes and management structures in place to cater for them. However, she says, allowing employees to bring their own devices to work and use social media to collaborate can give them the sense of freedom and flexibility they are looking for, even when they need to be 9-to-5 office workers.
“Companies need to get millennials involved in decision-making and ensure that they feel their voices are heard. They enter the workforce as self-confident and empowered young professionals, and they believe that respect between employer and employee is a two-way street. That’s why it’s important to create formal and informal structures where employees can give and receive feedback.
Employers should show long-term commitment to millennial employees by talking about their future career path within the company. They should also keep younger employees challenged and engaged by giving them opportunities to flex their problem solving skills and offer them opportunities to try new things and build their skills and expertise,” she says.
Swanepoel concludes with some advice for companies on ensuring their readiness for the employee of the future. “Attracting millennials to your growing company is not only good for business---it is essential for future growth and sustainability. They, along with the emerging Generation Z, are the customers of the future. You need their insight into how your next generation of customers will live, think, and use technology.”