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Managing Across Generations: Lessons from 3 SHRM Annual Conference Sessions

Human Resources

One of the hot topics at this year's SHRM Annual Conference was managing an intergenerational workforce. As Generation Z (those born between 1994 and 2010) enters the workforce, some companies have as many as five generations working side-by-side. HR leaders around the globe are struggling with questions ranging from, "What do Gen Z employees really want?" to "How can I retain my most valuable senior employees?" Here's a closer look at takeaways from three key sessions of the conference.

Engaging the Workforce of the Future: The Emergence of Generation Z

Jim Link is the Chief HR Officer for Randstad USA, and he presented a fascinating session on the challenges, opportunities, and imperatives for attracting the younger talent of the future. This year, more than 3.6 million baby boomers are set to retire – which amounts to 10,000 employees per day. As they do, they're taking critical insights, relationships, and institutional knowledge with them.

The dynamics are shifting to put younger workers front and center. Twenty-five percent of millennials will take a management job this year, and members of Gen Z are beginning to enter the workforce. In Link's words, "We are wholly and completely unprepared for what lies ahead." What key trends do HR leaders need to consider?

  • Technology is the fifth sense of Generation Z. Link noted that one study found "53 percent of individuals aged 16-22 would give up sense of smell before an essential piece of technology (phone, laptop, etc.)."
  • Gen Z has different expectations for the workplace, including highly collaborative manager relationships, raises after completing a project, and the idea that job loyalty means staying with the same company for two to four years.
  • Members of Gen Z are highly global, and they are a generation that grew up with global terrorism as a part of their daily lives. In addition, they're more focused on the essence of a person – funny, witty, smart – versus issues like race or ethnicity, due in large part to how technology has shaped their relationships.
  • Student debt, which shapes both workplace choices and compensation needs, is a significant concern for Gen Z. While tuition has gone up, wages have remained stagnant for young workers.
  • Workplace flexibility is the most sought-after benefit for workers in this age group – more than healthcare or training and development.

generations in the workplace

30 Under 30 – 10 Steps to Attract and Retain Millennials

The "30 Under 30" panel provided HR leaders with different strategies to, as they put it, make their workplace millennial-friendly. The session was moderated by SHRM's VP of Editorial Tony Lee and featured four panelists with different types of hands-on HR experience in various industries. They offered a number of strategies for companies to consider in their efforts to attract younger workers:

  • Build a strong employer brand. Showcase your culture through videos, employee profiles, and other strategies that help prospective candidates understand your business.
  • Take a transparent approach in your conversations. Invite questions and be honest with your answers. Encourage candidates to talk to current employees to learn more about their experience on the ground.
  • Prioritize work/life balance in your messaging, and make sure your culture – what you reward, compensate, and promote employees for – reflects those values.
  • Keep compensation packages at or above industry standards. Compensation is a big factor for a generation with mountains of student debt.
  • Create a career roadmap for each new hire. Make it clear how you'll support their development through training, focus, and progression.
  • Build a skill-structured training program that addresses the millennial desire for leadership training, skills development, and career progression.
  • Understand that access to cutting-edge technology – from devices and software to the latest industry tools – will help attract the best and brightest candidates.
  • Foster strong connections by teaching managers to take an engaged approach, and provide other opportunities for coaching and mentoring.
  • Embrace innovative recognition programs that incorporate yearly milestones, and provide recognition for activities such as successfully completing training or delivering an excellent project.
  • Lean into the desire for deeper purpose. Help millennials understand your company's mission and how it helps make people's lives, industries, or the world at large a better place.

The Great Generational Shift: Preparing for the Emerging Post-Boomer Workforce

In this session with Bruce Tulgan, the founder of RainmakerThinking, Inc., HR leaders were led through ways to address some of the biggest challenges the human resources field faces with the generational shift under way. Tulgan noted two of the biggest challenges in managing people today: the workforce is more high maintenance, and workplaces are more high pressure. As a result, it's important to develop strategies that help you address emerging issues.

Retention: Keep in mind, retention operates differently at different ends of the spectrum.

  • Develop flexible retention attitudes. Many of your older, more experienced staff members may stay longer if they are offered reduced schedules, the option of working from home, or alternate hours, for example. With younger talent, focus on attracting the right talent, investing in their development, and creating mentoring, coaching, and learning opportunities with senior staff.
  • The role of HR is evolving. Companies say it's tough because Generations Y and Z think of HR as "The HR police." Today's leaders are afraid of difficult conversations because they want to be liked and they misunderstand what empowerment means. HR needs to ensure that managers are proactively engaging with and coaching their teams, and avoiding the under-management epidemic that's occurring in some companies.
  • It's important to adapt. Your team's needs and expectations are changing. Rather than enforcing old policies, look at the different ways you can adapt your strategy (e.g. move from punitive management to coaching) for better results.

Intergenerational management: For a successful intergenerational management plan, it's important to ask:

  • Are leaders practicing day-to-day coaching-style leadership?
  • How are you offering flexibility to and rewarding people who go the extra mile?
  • Have you adapted your HR policies and approach to the changing needs of a different generation?

Successfully managing a five-generation workforce and attracting younger workers requires an awareness of changing needs, a willingness to embrace new ways of managing staff, and attracting the best talent. Now is the time to make these investments to lay the foundation for long-term success.


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