Five Generations at Work: Managing an Age-Diverse Workforce
By Adam Hale, CEO, Fairsail

Businesses today find themselves in an unprecedented situation, with much already made about the five distinct generations now in the workforce. From the newest kids on the block — those Generation Z employees taking on their first jobs through to Millennials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists — each generation has its own worldview and life experiences, aptitudes, career goals and expectations of their employer. Managing such a diverse workforce is often uncharted territory for today’s HR professionals.

The complexities of meeting the distinct needs, preferences and developmental opportunities of these generations are especially challenging for companies in the cable and telecommunications industry, which must also account for perennial factors impacting the situation including advancing technology, M&A activity and shifting consumer demands.

The good news is that cable and telecom is well accustomed to diversity; with already higher than average numbers of diverse talent, HR professionals in the space understand that a one-size-fits-all approach to talent management does not work. Having five generations in the workforce does present a new challenge but the industry has always been able to adapt. And managing an age-diverse workforce becomes easier once an organization knows what each group is looking for.

To better understand this new reality, Fairsail recently conducted a survey of 250 senior-level global HR professionals to determine just what organizations face in managing the multi-generational workforce. One of the most concerning findings was a significant digital skills gap across each generation, with one in five HR leaders (21%) citing difficulty finding new talent with the technical understanding their companies need. Furthermore, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing an unemployment rate in the telecom industry of just 2.1%, qualified talent has become scarcer, and competition for the best candidates of any age has never been greater.

But once the best talent is found, HR must learn how to navigate each generation. When asked which generation is toughest to manage, 47.6% of survey respondents indicated Millennials, and 33.6% selected Baby Boomers. While Millennials tend to demand greater flexibility in their jobs, wanting more control of how, when and where they work, Baby Boomers prefer greater stability and predictability. Striking the balance between the two isn’t always easy.

Training and development presents another obstacle, with 16.4% of HR leaders reporting this to be their most pressing issue. A mid-career Gen-Xer is unlikely to have the same developmental needs as a Gen-Zer just cutting their teeth, and each generation has its own ways of learning and retaining information. The varying age groups even have distinct preferences in how they prefer to receive important company information, with 15.6% of respondents struggling to deliver workforce communications effectively.

Despite the complexities of each group, there is one overarching theme: the need for a greater understanding of their workforce. Overall, 52.8% of respondents agree that their organizations need more visibility. The more complex the workforce (and such complexity is inherent in the cable and telecom industry), the more urgently companies need to establish genuine, real-time visibility into their talent.

Many organizations recognize that the ability to blend people data from multiple internal and external sources is essential to understanding the multi-generational workforce. Greater visibility will also drive improvements across the talent lifecycle from identifying the sourcing methods that deliver the best technical talent, to recruiting and onboarding new hires more efficiently, managing ongoing performance and keeping the entire workforce up to date with the latest company information.

Fortunately, new advances in people science can deliver on these imperatives, and more companies are adopting such strategies. Over two-thirds of survey respondents say they are considering how blended data and people analytics can help improve their HR practices. Moreover, 29.2% report that their companies have already hired data analysts or people scientists to make sense of their important workforce data and help HR make better informed people decisions.

Cognitive computing, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, is also gaining popularity, with 63.2% of respondents considering how they can factor the latest advancements into their future plans. Such technologies show a great deal of promise in facilitating talent management across five generations, helping to recruit people with the most relevant skills, provide targeted training and development, and ensure employees of any age work to their full potential.

Recognizing, addressing and delivering on the needs of the multi-generational workforce is crucial to achieving success in today’s talent landscape. And the cable and telecom industry has a key advantage over others in meeting this goal. No stranger to diversity, HR professionals in this field have always had to adapt to meet the needs of their employees, and the very nature of the industry lends itself to continued change.

For instance, companies can provide Millennials with the flexibility they crave, and meet growing customer demands for faster service, by creating an on-demand field service organization of independent contractors able to step in as needed, rather than working the traditional nine to five. Moreover, implementing a mentorship program can help the youngest employees learn the business, while transferring the knowledge and expertise of company veterans.

As the divide between generations continues to infiltrate the cable and telecom industry, companies will rely even more on their HR teams to help them find, hire and retain the best talent of any age. Understanding the needs of each generation, and identifying the data and new tools to help address them, are critical to success in managing this new blended workforce. 

Adam Hale is the CEO of Fairsail, which makes cloud HR information systems and solutions for multinational organizations. Prior to his current role, Adam was the Head of Software and European Technology at Russell Reynolds Associates, the leading executive search firm and before that ran large system implementation projects at Accenture.




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