The intelligence of each generation will be defined by not how they change, but by how they adapt, writes MILIND APTE.
The workplace is changing at a mindboggling pace today. While Gen Y will occupy 70 per cent of the workforce by 2020, Gen Z (one that follows Gen Y), set to occupy 10 per cent, will have jobs that have not even been created yet. All thanks to the speed at which technology is making headway into human lives. This evolution is further amplified by the changing demographics of the workplace - we can see three generations in action at the workplace today: Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. What matters for us from a people management perspective is to comprehend how these three generations experience ongoing HR policies and practices. For example, how does a Baby Boomer experience the current reward and recognition scheme compared to a Millennial? Are Gen Xers in a better position to adjust and contribute to cross-functional teams than Baby Boomers? Thus, a big challenge looms over organisations growing at breakneck speeds: How to establish a standard code of ethics for a population comprising employees from these three age groups. Ethics at the workplace vary from employee to employee, based on backgrounds, values and experiences. This heterogeneous nature of ethical behaviour is further amplified by the fact that we have multiple generations working together. Changing age demographics have impacted the interpretation of standard codes of ethics at the workplace. We must learn to manage these thoughts as an increasing number of these age groups cross paths in the course of work.
Understanding the generations
As organisations, we must understand how each generation defines the ´dos and don´ts´ at work. Let´s take a quick look at these generations first to understand who we are dealing with.
Baby Boomers: Born around 1946-1964, this generation felt it could change the world. It has witnessed industrialisation and globalisation as well as various recessions. They are largely driven by loyalty and commitment to the organisation, which can rely on their skills. They carry much tacit knowledge owing to their broad-based experience developed on the job. Boomers are critical in fostering the capabilities of the next generation through mentoring. For them, being respected by others is paramount.
Generation X: Born around 1965-80, Gen X had a childhood defined by a boom in digital technology. Comfortable with technology and working with individuals from diverse backgrounds, Gen Xers are ambitious, hardworking and value the work-life balance. As many come from families where both parents were working, they are independent and resourceful. They thrive on change, challenge and responsibility. For them, career progression trumps the desire for a long-term relationship with an organisation. They need a canvas to express themselves, and take risks and feedback to help them understand their blind spots.
Millennial (Generation Y): WIIFM? - what´s in it for me? This question perfectly summarises Gen Y. Considering their exposure to IT, they prefer to communicate through digital platforms rather than on the phone or face-to-face. Millennials are ace multitaskers, thanks to the evolution of affordable internet connectivity and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. At work, this outspoken generation expects instant gratification in terms of fast and meaningful career growth and are less likely to stay with organisations for long periods. If they don´t get constant stimulation, they will leave. As they are learning-oriented, they are open to hearing others out and are collaborative workers.
Now, let´s see how common HR policies and systems are perceived by these three generations. Rewards and recognitions
Baby Boomers are driven by the respect they have earned over the years in their organisation. Recognition at mass employee forums or awards can keep them motivated and engaged. Gen X and Y, however, are more likely to look for motivators in the form of performance-linked bonuses and promotions. For Gen Y, in particular, innovative incentives such as movie or concert tickets, an extra week off and paid mini-vacations are popular.
Learning and development
With the advent of IT, the traditional classroom training methodology is now being replaced with virtual classroom learning. E-learning is the buzz word with Gen Y, who has grown up playing computer games and learning through knowledge-sharing websites. However, Baby Boomers may still be more comfortable with a physical classroom training interface where they can have one-on-one discussions with mentors or trainers, investing time to build trust and a relationship.
For Baby Boomers, taking time off work for family or education is often considered an unnecessary luxury. In contrast, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important for Gen X. Many Gen Xers are juggling parenthood or continuing education part-time. Hence, we have introduced flexible working hours and work-from-home policies to support them. In fact, flexible working hours and sabbaticals are important factors in attracting talent in industries like media and IT. Gen Y takes this concept to the next level; they believe the organisation must also support them in contributing to larger community development initiatives. They define work-life balance as having the flexibility to structure their time commitment to work and personal life the way they want. For example, Godrej Properties has supported employees who wanted to take time off work and participate in the Teach for India movement. We also have a Brighter Giving initiative, where we help employees who want to contribute to society, find a cause that can benefit from their skills.
For Baby Boomers, career progression was largely driven by years of experience gained and expertise developed in a particular domain. They typically joined an organisation early in their careers (if not at the start), climbed up the ladder with time and retired as leaders or experts in their field of work. However, many Gen Yers thrive on cross-functional assignments. They want to participate in projects beyond their core domain and connect with teams across geographies. Hence, many organisations have started providing challenging assignments and special projects to young managers to engage them and recognise their potential.
Communication and information sharing
For Baby Boomers (and for Gen X to some extent) availability of information was limited by tall organisational hierarchies and minimal technological interface between teams. Knowing what was happening in the organisation was seen as a function of influence and opportunity. However, for a Gen Yer, who is used to ´googling´ information within seconds, open lines of communication are important. Hence, at Godrej Properties, we have launched several communication platforms like internal business newsletters and employee communication forums to enable sharing of views and information on the real estate industry and our business. We have also launched Brighter Minds, an internal knowledge management portal, where business process or product-related documents can be shared, in order to promote a collaborative workspace for learning beyond functional boundaries.
A key people practice that sees the greatest impact of generational differences is the performance management system of an organisation. Most Baby Boomers have experienced an appraisal system that was more ´boss-driven´, feedback was a one-way street flowing downward from the manager to the team member. However, we have now moved towards a more democratic approach, wherein appraisals involve a performance dialogue between the manager and team member. In fact, some organisations have moved towards more evolved models, like the 360¦ feedback model that allows an employee to receive feedback from managers, peers, team members and other internal and external stakeholders. While such an approach may have experienced resistance with Baby Boomers, it is well accepted by Gen Y who welcomes diverse views and believes that feedback facilitates personal and professional growth.
Need of the hour
Over the years, seeing how HR systems have evolved to embrace the changing expectations of generations, it´s fair to say that codes of standard workplace behaviour must also evolve. The need is not to bridge the gap between generations and our codes of ethics, but simply to align them. We must move away from the ´one-size-fit-all´ approach. Just like generations, the definition and standards of ethical behaviour must evolve with time.
About the author:
Milind Apte, Chief People Officer, Godrej Properties Ltd, has been instrumental in establishing a strong Human Resource team and has built strong credibility with stakeholders. With rich HR and IR experience of over two decades, he has worked with some of the best multinational companies in India.