Putting people first is the key to a successful business proposition

With employment levels high and continuing skills shortages, a major challenge for employers is the attraction and retention of staff. Mark Staniland, Regional Managing Director at Hays opines as to how inter-generational workforces will be the solution

Technology is changing almost every aspect of our lives and, as a result, workplaces are adjusting to at a pace which has never been seen before. One of the major challenges in this fast-paced world is how we maximise what many believe to be our most important asset; our people.

A shift in the people agenda is something I recently discussed at the Advanced World 2019 conference as a keynote speaker, alongside Gordon Wilson, CEO of Advanced, and Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the CBI. The message I was keen to communicate was that the people agenda is more complex than ever before and is directly influenced but not limited to three areas: ageing workforces, skills shortages and technological evolution.

The ageing workforce

Just a few of the eye-opening statistics about our ageing workforce include that the average age in the UK is now 40, 10 years older than it was in 1974. By 2030, it is estimated that half of all adults in the UK will be over 50 and with employment at its highest level since 1971 and birth rates falling, the average age of the workforce will continue to increase.

As the normal retirement age of sometime in your 60s becomes a thing of the past, it won’t be long before four generations of employees are working together in the same workplace. Organisations are starting to realise this and beginning to take action. These actions include preventing an early exit from the workplace, encouraging later life working and supporting intergenerational workforces. Tackling these issues is requiring open-mindedness, agility and a willingness to try new things and write a new rule book.

One effective way of kick-starting intergenerational working is reverse mentoring. It’s a concept where the traditional image of the mentor is turned on its head, and senior or older members of the workforce are coached by millennials and Generation Z. Reverse mentoring reinforces the idea of lifelong learning and is a clear example of how to support different generations working together.

Findings from Advanced’s latest annual Trends Survey Report help make a strong case for reverse mentoring in the workplace. The majority (59%) of Generation Z workers think that less than half of their organisation is ready to adopt new technology to change the way they work. Meanwhile, 52% feel that having a strong digital skill-set is the most important attribute for a business leader in the digital era (compared to 39% of all ages).

Millennials, and even more so Generation Z workers, are inherently more IT-savvy, which means they have so much to offer the rest of the workforce which is less familiar or confident with technology. Employers should see this as a direct opportunity to position this generation as mentors within their organisation.

Additionally, as people begin to work longer and the retirement age inches higher, the relationship between employer and employee will undoubtedly change.

We are already starting to witness this in the form of portfolio careers and ‘side hustle contracts’ where people explore other business interests alongside their day job. This shift will require employers to become more flexible about staff taking the time to fulfil their own passions and eventually building ‘side hustle contracts’ into formal policies according to Henley Business School.

Skills shortages – people first

As employment levels remain high, coupled with continuing skills shortages, a major challenge for employers is the attraction and retention of staff. A staggering 92% of employers told us they had experienced some form of skills shortages last year in data from our 2019 Salary Guide.

In our 2017 and 2018 What Workers Want reports, we explored the actions employers can take to improve their attraction and retention in today’s world. Our 2017 report for example found that around 60% of an individual’s decision when looking for a new role was based on issues other than pay, with company culture and career progression being key factors.

More and more so, culture is a key differentiator for companies as many professionals who participated in our research told us they would be prepared to take a pay cut for on organisation that offers a better cultural fit. An effective discussion on the culture, what it is truly like to work in the organisation and what is expected of employees and in some cases, the opportunity to meet the team, should therefore be a key part of the interview process.

Once hired, our report found that feedback and recognition are critical factors in retention and in this space, we are seeing some new and innovative approaches with regards to performance management. Global networking company Cisco used technology to transform performance management and their digital platform now enables weekly feedback across Cisco’s 74,000 employees. Cisco’s retention rate has improved as a result whilst also acting as a differentiator in attracting staff.

Technological evolution

To maximise the technology we bring into our organisations, there is a real need to develop ‘software mindsets’ among our staff. We would define a software mindset as a combination of embracing, learning and implementing technology and then adding human value to maximise the technology and injecting creativity.

In 2018, 70% of business leaders admitted to being concerned about their organisation’s ability to adopt new technology and for many organisations it isn’t easy to deliver a simple solution to embed that software mindset. However, we are seeing organisations developing and investing heavily in change and learning programmes that drive forward both skills and win hearts and minds in order to succeed.

All in all, the world is moving faster than ever before and there is a real opportunity to rethink the people agenda. While there are challenges, the three areas employers should consider focusing on to maximise human value are developing learning, offering flexibility and communicating their culture effectively to potential employees. In an age of increasing automation and technology in the workplace, the need for a human touch in order to build relationships and add value is perhaps more important than ever.

Mark Staniland is Regional Managing Director at Hays

Further reading: Businesses must look beyond ‘inspirational women’ to shrink gender divide

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Stephanie Spicer

Stephanie Spicer is an editor at Bonhill Group

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