Our workplaces have gone through some seismic changes over the past few years and the pace of change doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon. From the invention of email sometime in the 1960s or 70s (depending on what story you believe) to instant messaging, social media, and now, artificial intelligence. We’ve come a long way since the Mad-Men-esque days of typewriters and switchboard operators.
Along with the huge changes our workplaces have been through, there’s also been a shift in attitudes towards work. Of course, at this point, your mind probably centres on Millennials and the differences in work ethic that is often compared with older generations. However, instead of focussing on this subset of the population and putting us into this category because of our age (which is often the go-to), we need to start seeing this as an attitude and a mindset shift - instead of a purely generational one.
The rise of the plugged-in employee
We’re increasingly plugged in. From the moment you wake up, you probably scroll through your smartphone, check your social media, read the news on a tablet, and maybe get a head-start on your emails. It comes as second nature to many of us to now interact with technology. It is this shift that has led to such a fundamental attitude change.
Technology is a wonderful thing for many of us. It has enabled an entirely new type of working - people can now remotely work for any company and there’s been a rise in flexible working. Instead of the traditional 9-5 job, people are now more open to portfolio careers, side projects, and the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle. Businesses need to understand and adapt to this.
A shift in cultural values from ‘Baby Boomer’ to ‘Millennial’
There is more emphasis and value placed on work/life balance. Traditional drivers for success have also changed, with fewer people attracted to just monetary wealth and more people looking for life-changing experiences like travelling the world. You just need to scroll through Medium for an afternoon to understand how attitudes are changing and the direction that values are going in.
Businesses that do not understand their changing workforce, are already struggling with attracting the best talent and keeping their people engaged. If you cannot understand the people who work for you, you cannot effectively cater to their needs. In the past, it was good enough to perhaps offer a gym membership, a decent pension, and have a good CSR scheme. Times have changed, and people’s expectations will continue to evolve depending on life stage, mindset, and ambition.
Catering to the many needs of the ‘Digital Natives’
With the rise of flexible and remote working allowing employees to continue their careers whilst satisfying their need to have a family, to travel, study or work on a passion project - organisations need to embrace the idea of offering a ‘menu’ of different benefits to employees.
New technology offers businesses an unparalleled opportunity to understand employees in minute detail. The rise of portfolio careers, for instance, has pros and cons for business leaders. On one hand, a passion project could lead a great employee to leave a company. But on the other hand, it could lead to a whole different skill-set that proves extremely useful to a company. The key here is in constantly communicating with the employee to understand what their skills are, what they are developing, and what they wish to develop. As an added bonus, by helping someone nurture their skills in-house, a business may be more likely to hold onto them in the long term.
Technology can help retain ‘Millennials’ and ‘Digital Natives’
In practical terms, balancing the different ambitions and drivers of a workforce, can be difficult, especially when trying to maintain day-to-day operations. When managing a remote workforce, for instance, it can be tempting to simply install Slack and think your work is done. However, investing in technology to make communication easier only works when your employees understand who to talk to in the first place.
Instead of purely emphasising messaging technology like Slack and Yammer, businesses should first address their internal communications strategy. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a cacophony of different technologies and nothing really tying them all together. Starting off with a technology that optimises who employees should talk to, and then thinking about the means, is a far more efficient process.
There also needs to be a system for tracking who is available and when - plus a clear view of all the skills and resources available within a business.
To retain talent (especially those with a ‘Millennial’ mindset) you have to give your employees a reason for coming into work over and over again. However, this should be tailored to each employee and not as scattergun as many development schemes are currently.
Looking to the future
Many of the issues discussed are already huge problems for many businesses. However, without addressing the needs of the changing workforce now, the problem will become even worse as time goes on. The next generation of, what they’ve been called ‘The Centennials’ - are already entering the workforce, and their needs are already different to us ‘Millennials’. Fast-forward a few decades and we’re going to see employees who have grown up learning to talk with Amazon’s Alexa, or the latest AI on the market, working side by side with people who still remember VHS.
Businesses that recognise and address this challenge now will find themselves in a much better place than ones who are left scrambling to keep their workforce together. Technology helps us to an extent, but it is just one piece of a complex puzzle. In order to piece everything together, businesses will have to work on understanding employees in more detail than they currently do. Knowing your staff and investing in the technology that helps your organisation work together is the key to attracting and retaining the right employees - no matter their moniker.
This article is brought to you exclusively by The Business Transformation Network.
Marketing Director at international technology company ProFinda - Vicky Holdsworth is a data-driven digital marketing specialist with over 10 years of experience across a variety of industries and sectors including; IT, Charity and Non-Profit, Agency and Technology. Alongside her work at ProFinda, Vicky is a strategic advisor and mentor for a number of London based Technology start-ups and charities, and is also the founder of WOF network; a senior leaders' future of work network with a mission to influence and shape an evolving world of work, for the better.