Management for the ages

Management for the ages

Generational differences in the workplace mean that management policies need to take into account both employment goals and lifestyle preferences.

With up to four generations employed in the workplace today, using different techniques to manage people of various ages has never been so important. Although each generation has its own needs, what is typical of all employees is a desire for work-life balance. Managers should be aware of the needs of different generations, and tailor their management style accordingly. The chief executive of recruitment firm PeopleCo, Jo Collier, says that while it is easy to blame people in their 20s (often generation Y) when it comes to needing new management approaches to the workplace, other generations have contributed to the changes, too.

Collier says managers need to recognise that different generations respond to different incentives. For instance, generation Y may prefer flexible working hours over financial incentives, and generation X (people in their 30s) might prefer financial bonuses to pay off their mortgages.

"Many Gen Ys are still living at home, they haven't bought a car - they would rather buy an iPod and travel," Collier says. "But then again, there are Gen Ys who don't fit that model, so employers have to make sure they manage according to an individual's needs."

She says that while some baby boomers - people aged from 42 to their early 60s - may prefer financial bonuses to contribute to their superannuation, others might choose to drop their hours as they plan for their retirement.

Consistency when deciding on organisational and management techniques is crucial to a company's success, according to Collier. She says that all incentives, whether they relate to finances or work-life balance, need to be valued equally to ensure that employees are treated equally and fairly. "The generation that people fit into is only one aspect of a person," she says. "You have to take into account other factors, such as culture ... essentially, everyone is an individual."

When it comes to attracting and retaining staff, Collier suggests money should never be the main factor. "If a business thinks people will come for money, then they will leave for money too," she says. "Money is just one part of an overall employment proposition."

Collier says the first step in developing that employment proposition is asking employees what they want, what the business is doing well, and what it could do better. She says employees also want to be informed about the performance of the company they work for, and that business leaders should share information about their profit and plans for the future.

Demographer and KPMG partner Bernard Salt says that all people are concerned about having that so-called work-life balance. But he says the difference between older and younger workers is that generation Y members actually make it happen. Salt says the fact that generation Ys are further down the corporate ladder than their older colleagues also makes it easier for them to achieve a better work-life balance.

"There is a lot of lip service to it, but the position of Gen Ys in the office hierarchy allows them to achieve it more easily," he says. "If you're a generation Y and you choose to give up work, then you're probably giving up the opportunity to be a part of something quite minor. Whereas if you're a baby boomer and you're giving up work, then you're giving up kudos, power, status ... and it's a bigger sacrifice."

Salt says baby boomers are hierarchical, traditional and concerned about "upsetting the status quo". But at the same time, he says baby boomers are continuing to try to meet the needs of generation Ys and are often overlooking Generation Xs.

"Generation Xs are the sandwich generation," he says. "They are often resentful of the baby boomers and waiting in the wings for the top job. Having paid their dues ... and ready to move into the positions left by baby boomers, in the past three years these young Gen Ys have come through and upset the balance."

Salt says that while managers should be aware of the distinguishing factors of each generation, they should consider individual management approaches for staff.

"The fact the bucket of Gen Ys is quite small has forced bosses to rethink their management approaches to 20-somethings," he says. "[Gen Ys] are unconstrained, they do not see limits as being an obstacle," he says.

But Salt says that formulating separate management strategies for each generation is not a good idea. "That could be too limited," he says. "It needn't be as structured as that."

Large accounting companies such as KPMG, which hires up to 500 graduates annually, know only too well the challenges of managing different generations. Although KPMG says it has about five times the number of applicants it needs to fill its graduate positions, it has widened the eligibility criteria of its graduate program in order to attract candidates with different skill sets. It has also extended its employment options to encourage greater staff retention.

But KPMG national human resources manager, attraction and resourcing, Chris Childs, says most employees want the same thing, irrespective of which generation they are born into.

"Anecdotally, baby boomers and generations X and Y are all interested in the same work practices, such as flexible working arrangements and career breaks, but perhaps for different stages of their careers," she says. "I think there are more opportunities available to generation Ys, and while other generations might have liked to have had those options, there wasn't the expectation there."

Childs says KPMG's graduate program - which has been running for more than 30 years - has recently been extended to undergraduates with degrees in areas other than accounting and commerce. And she says KPMG is also encouraging people over the age of 30 to apply for those positions, but most of the 500 positions are filled by people in their early 20s.

"The big thing we've learnt is that generation Ys tend to look at their career as more a portfolio of positions. People today are also more outspoken and open about what they want from their careers," Childs says. "It is now acceptable for people to have careers that are diagonal and sideways. We are able to offer this via our global partners and our different divisions. We offer options such as career breaks, where people can take 12 months off and still have their job waiting for them when they return, and working from home options."

KPMG says its "People First" program, which focuses on providing flexible working options, has contributed to a drop in staff turnover from 19.3 per cent in 2005-06 to 15.7 per cent in 2006-07.

The company doesn't categorise its workers in terms of what generation they come from, but rather on a case-by-case basis, according to Childs. "We don't see higher work-life demands coming from any one generation - it is more across the board," she says. "We have a number of employees who have families and choose to work from home and service their clients from home. We acknowledge that it's not a one-size-fits-all workforce."

Other large companies such as Bendigo Bank have recognised the need for a personalised approach to managing staff. Bendigo Bank HR project manager, group human resources, Sharnie Curnow, says the bank focuses on providing its employees with flexible working conditions that are financially viable for the company.

As such, Bendigo Bank is now offering its staff a range of working options, including job-sharing and working from home. It is also experimenting with compressed hours, which essentially means that an employee still works a 76-hour fortnight, but they may work 10-hour days and have some time off during the week.

With more baby boomers contemplating retirement, Curnow says the bank is considering introducing a phased retirement program, which allows ageing workers to reduce their hours without leaving the company altogether. It would also allow retired workers to be employed for special projects.

"We see flexible work options as a critical business strategy for attraction and retention of people in the current climate of labour shortages and changing social trends," Curnow says. "Showing commitment and support to our people beyond the hours of 9am to 5pm, we expect to see a rise in employee loyalty and engagement, resulting in reductions in staff turnover."

©Fairfax Business Media

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Tags skills shortagestaff retentiongeneration ystaff recruitment

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