Today’s business world is composed of a generational melting pot; a workforce split between digital natives, digital immigrants, and in some cases (based on their stage of continuum into adulthood), digital aliens. There’s no doubt that this gap in individuals’ technological aptitudes is forcing companies into an ever-present struggle to bridge the “generational digital divide” during the hiring, training, and culture-building process. What can your organization do to meet the diverse needs of current and future employees? Read on for insights into defining, engaging, and serving Generations X, Y, and Z.
THE DEFINITION OF GENERATIONS X, Y, AND Z*
Generation X – Born between 1965 and 1980
Defined by materialism, technology and two-parent incomes, this group grew up with the rapid advancement of technology, and were the first to experience a room full of Apple 2Es, dying of dysentery on the Oregon Trail, “be kind, rewind” VHS, and eventually, the painful sound of dial-up.
Generation Y – Born between 1981 and 1997 (Also known as Millennials)
The world of Millennials’ youth was defined by dot-com startups, diversity, downsizing, and 9/11. Technology was no longer just the web, but also the concept of being “connected” 24/7. This generation was the first to experience social media, the iPod, and the transition from dial-up to modern connections did for one’s ability to consume digital content.
Generation Z – Born after 1997 (Also known as the iGeneration)
Unlike the Millennials before them, this generation has had technology at their fingertips from the very beginning. They are truly the first digital natives, and are very comfortable with the internet and social media. Gen Zs see these tools as a good way to network without feeling isolated from the rest of the world.
*The Generations Defined – Pew Research Center
HOW TO BRIDGE THE GENERATIONAL DIVIDE FOR THE GEN X, Y, AND Z WORKFORCE
To be successful, businesses need to prepare for how technological shifts will change their processes and impact their bottom line – both in good and bad ways. When positioning a company to potential talent, it’s vital to be recognized as an organization that can anticipate the impact of technology, be an early-adopter of innovation, and will engage a workforce to jump onboard. One of the best ways to prepare for tech shifts is to gain insight from the respective generations themselves.
Employers Must Stay Technologically Competent
It’s no surprise that all three generations have a thirst for technology in the workplace, and in turn see the digital capabilities of their employer as important. In fact, the quickest way to frustrate Gens X, Y, and Z is to couple outdated processes with poorly merged applications of new technology – it’s a recipe for disaster. According to Universum’s study “Building Leaders for the Next Decade,” 72 percent of Gen X and Y professionals think that an employer’s digital capabilities are important. Only 40 percent of Gen X professionals, and 44 percent of their Gen Y counterparts think that their employer’s technical competence is high.
What can you do to prepare?
- View technology as a process, not a goal. The pace of technology is so rapid that you can’t see improvements as anything but continuous. If you are setting end goals instead of milestones, you’re already losing the race.
- Provide your employees with a smooth digital experience. Believe it or not, your employees want the same digital experience that you provide to your customers: seamless, intuitive and with minimal issues.
- Seek out the right talent and cultivate them. It’s difficult to run an effective digital strategy without the right people. Make finding talent a priority, and work to retain and develop their native genius.
Employers Must Cultivate a Culture of Growth
With technology comes the many training benefits that employees of Gen X, Y, and Z find attractive. When asked if they would take an online course if offered one, 80 percent across the generations answered yes. However, before employers assume that younger generations only want to learn through online sources, they should think again: When given the choice between an online course or an in-person course, 69 percent of Gen Z chose the in-person option.
What can you do to prepare?
- Use employee evaluation for the best training options. Just because the data for Gen Z shows an in-person preference for training doesn’t mean you should shift 100 percent of your investments back into that option. The best evaluation approach is to check in with employees often to gauge their preferences, and apply results to trainings that best fit your budget and capabilities.
- Provide internal growth opportunities. Engage your digital toolset to allow Gens X, Y, and Z opportunities to explore “intrapreneurships,” where employees enjoy the ability to work on start-up projects and collaborate across the organization.
- Use technology to empower constant feedback. Gens X, Y, and Z are concerned with whether their personalities mesh with their employers, and they use that fit as a barometer of their job meaning and purpose. David Kalt, founder and CEO of Revert, motivates his employees by giving them real-time access to information about the company’s performance. Sharing the company vision motivates his employees and gives them an avenue for providing feedback.
Employers Must Prioritize Flexibility
We live in the age of the “gig” economy. There’s an opportunity at every corner to connect and leverage technology – which means that people are working when and where they want. It’s not groundbreaking data to learn that Gens X, Y, and Z expect workplace technology to offer them more flexibility. A study by Instead Knowledge reports that “70 percent of X, Y, and Z generations said that a flexible work arrangement plays an important role on their work life.”
What can you do to prepare?
- Embrace the digital workforce. If you want to attract the digital workforce, you need to change the way you’re hunting for talent. It’s not uncommon today to see companies recruiting offsite or outside of their hours of operation. Just be certain to weigh the balance of your culture, business needs, and digital health when making this shift.
- Digitize the employee experience based on cultural fit. Every technology-backed solution you offer to your workforce must be carefully researched to ensure that it fits your current organizational culture. Technology that is forced isn’t enabling a positive experience. Consider polling your workforce to find out what’s working and what’s not.
- Shift the cultural perception. It may seem counterintuitive, but making even positive changes to the workplace can lead to resistance. For example, some employees might be hesitant to switch over to flexible work hours, fearing that doing so might make them appear less committed than those on the traditional clock. It’s easier said than done, but changing cultural perception is key when building a positive work environment.
THE FUTURE OF THE WORKPLACE: ARE YOU READY?
Keeping up with technological and social changes fueled by younger employees is one path for keeping your company relevant. However, be sure to identify and take advantage of opportunities to engage employee feedback; it will help craft a workplace that is attractive across the landscape of digital natives, immigrants, and aliens within the Gen X, Y, and Z workforce. Then if you work to stay “connected,” your workforce will remain connected with you.