Transforming the workplace: A 2020 vision

By Natalie Maroun

While local organisations continue to tackle diversity issues along the lines of race, gender, sexual orientation and physical disability, there is another often overlooked element that is very much part of the diversity mix – that of age diversity.

For the first time in the history of the modern world there are four, soon to be five, generations working side-by-side, each bringing vastly different sets of values, beliefs and expectations to the workforce. These shifting workforce demographics coupled with rapid advancement of digital technology and the emergence of the knowledge economy are currently shaping the
workplace of the future.

It is a future where everything we know about work and the workplace will be transformed. From where and how we work, to the knowledge and skills required to perform our jobs, it will be a vastly different place. But how many organisations have the foresight to plan for these eventualities? And how many employers and employees will be ready for the workplace in 2020?

The ability to adapt and not only keep abreast but keep ahead of technology, as well as strategically incorporate it as a key business function will be vital in organisations that thrive in this environment. With the emergence of the social Web, companies now have the ability to accelerate how they find and capture knowledge, broadcast and share the knowledge of employees, design new products, and also engage employees more fully in the workplace.

Online social platforms already play a key role in bringing employees together to connect, collaborate, problem solve and innovate, making-up the very core of company culture. Digital platforms will also play an essential role in learning. While computer and Web-based training will still have their place, social learning via social media, gaming, real-time feedback and advanced on-the-job methodologies will play a far more important role in the acquisition of skills and knowledge and have many added benefits. It is collaborative, immediate, relevant and most importantly presented in the context of an individual’s unique work environment.

Technology will also be solely responsible for sidelining the importance of the workplace thanks to its mobile and ubiquitous nature. The organizational teams of the future will reinvent themselves, making it irrelevant where they work as long as they deliver results to the team.

And while technology will serve to unite and bring about collaboration and innovation within organisations, the question remains as to how organisations can best manage talent from different generations. Here it is best to understand the needs and expectations of each generation, looking at what motivates them and leverage off this diversity.

Although one might think the traditionalists (born before 1946) would make-up a relatively small percentage of the overall workforce, the economic meltdown beginning in 2008 resulted in many of these workers not being able to afford to retire. However, this generation still has much to offer with decades of knowledge and experience under its belt. Less tech-savvy though, they thrive on face-to-face communication and tend to resist digital or web-based technology.

Majority of corporate executives fall into the Baby Boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964). This generation equates high salaries and long working hours with success and does not prioritise flexibility or work-life balance unlike their Generation X colleagues (born between 1965 and 1980).
Although ambitious and hard-working Generation X’ers value family time and favour companies that allow them the freedom to set their own hours. This generation thrives on diversity, challenges, responsibility and creative input. Give them the space to perform and they will.

The Millennials or Generation Y’s (born between 1977 and 1997) are the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce. This group is intelligent, creative, optimistic, achievement-oriented and techno-savvy. They want to be creatively challenged, look for personal growth opportunities and seek meaningful careers. Adept at multi-tasking via mobile technology, they are happiest when they have flexibility in the workplace.

Working with these four different generations requires leaders to be highly intuitive and responsive to their employees needs. Important here is understanding what platform of communication each generation seeks out and what technologies they are comfortable using. Organisations should be encouraging leadership that is sensitive to understanding its workforce so that they can illicit the best performance from them.

A leader that insists on email communication with a traditionalist who needs personal interaction is not going to get the best performance from that employee. On the other hand many ¬†Generation Y’s are attracted to businesses where Social Networking is encouraged as a form of marketing, communicating and learning. They will resist joining organisations that block Social

Succeeding as an employer or an employee in the 2020 workplace essentially comes down to understanding and leveraging off these multi-generational strengths, while fully reaping the benefits that digital technology and social media have brought into the workplace.

Natalie Maroun is Chief Strategist for LRMG Performance Agency

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