Numbering 83.1 million, millennials are now the largest living generation in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, the Bureau projects that they will represent nearly 75% of all workers by 2030. This demographic shift means millennial attitudes and desires are beginning to reshape the workplace and change how employers and employees relate to each other.
“How we manage our workforce for digital transformation is changing,” says Roger Quinlan, SAP global head and SVP partner of managed cloud organization. “The workforce is likely to be more transient and less tenured than previous generations. As leaders and managers, we will have to operate differently and be more hands on.”
Labor experts such as Hans-Petter Mellerud, CEO of Zalaris ASA, an industry leader in outsourced human resource and payroll services, says this evolution will be necessary because millennials have been socialized to value collaboration, informed decision-making, mentoring, and a more balanced approach to work and leisure. These traits do not mean that millennials are less careerist than earlier generations, but they do suggest that employers cannot assume that existing management practices are sufficient to maximize the talent potential of this group.
Baby Boomers and Generation X employees are still contributing
Even as the number of millennials in the workplace increases, businesses will retain significant numbers of Baby Boomer and Generation X workers who are delaying retirement for personal or financial reasons. Because of these trends, the average age of workers will increase from about 41.9 years today to about 42.4 years by 2024. Also, by 2024, adults 55 and older will make up nearly one quarter of all workers.
These broad population trends might suggest that businesses are headed to some type of generational clash, but a recent study indicates that Boomers and Gen Xers have much in common with their millennial counterparts. They have shared values and goals such as a desire for promotion and recognition, monetary reward, and work and life balance.
Communication plays a critical role in helping the generations to overcome stereotypes and recognize their alignments [or shared expectations]. Management can facilitate this process by using each worker’s preferred communication channel. While some will want a personal interaction, others will be more receptive to messages delivered via text, email, or social media.
Organizations must evolve along with their employees
Digital transformation will continue even as organizations become more intergenerational. To succeed in this era of rapid change, companies must enhance their competitiveness and efficiency by being as nimble and willing to evolve as their employees.
Mellerud thinks many companies will need to adopt less hierarchical and more decentralized structures to achieve these objectives. “I think this evolution is absolutely the key to growth in the digital age,” he says. “It is virtually impossible to drive business success using a command and control type of approach.”
These flatter organizations will need to empower employees to act on the company’s behalf. Technology can play a role in enabling this process by providing the analytics that management needs to track and validate employee decisions and ensure accountability.
“Lots of change management occurs and you have to have the entire organization on board,” Quinlan says. “But more than anything, you must set the overall tone and direction and then not dictate too much how the work gets done. Technology helps you empower the team and give them guidelines while letting them be creative in how they solve the problem.”
This approach means employees will be solving problems differently, particularly if they are part of intergenerational teams with a range attitudes, abilities, and life experiences. Quinlan says that is exactly what organizations need if they want to produce the best outcomes for their customers and their own bottom line.
Want to learn more? Listen to the SAPRadio show “Your Digital Workforce: Rethinking how to Empower Employees,” and check @SAPPartnerBuild on Twitter.