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Management of the New Demographics in the Workplace

article ran in the August/September 2011 print issue of PA TIMES.
Contact Editor Christine Jewett McCrehin ([email protected]) for more
information on the print issue. See the Related Articles box for links
to more articles from the Insights on Performance column.

Christine Gibbs Springer

The workplace of the future is being shaped today by a collection of social media technologies and by five generations at work. Employees are increasingly demanding that employers overhaul their approach to recruitment and engagement of workers so as to get and keep the most talented. To do so, public administrators need to better understand the forces shaping the future workplace and how to engage talented workers and the community so as to create a new organizational culture. Public administrators also need to become new and true leaders.

The five generations currently at work according to a U.S. Department of Census 2007 report include 46 million Traditionalists born before 1946, 78 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964, 50 million Generation Xers born between 1965 and 1976, 88 million Millennials born between 1977 and 1997, and 41 million Generation 2020s born after 1997.

While a record number of Millennials are entering the workplace, many older workers are also returning to it. Older workers may either stay in their current jobs longer or enter second careers. Increasingly, the federal government is one sector that appears to be hiring older, more experienced workers. Each generation brings a different lens to the workplace and different expectations regarding work, learning and communication.

My research indicates that five key forces are shaping the future workplace. First, Traditionalists and Baby Boomers are as likely as Millennials to be Web contributors usually by being active contributors to existing content while Millennials focus on creating new content. Second, Boomers and Generation Xers look for a work life/home life balance while Millennials see work as “part of life.” Third, Millennials and Generation Xers place high importance on working for an organization that develops them professionally. Fourth, Millennials are likely to choose to work for an organization based upon their ability to access the latest technologies at work such as Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. Fifth, Traditionalists and Boomers place high importance on management’s understanding and valuing having all four generations in the workplace.

Five key principles are increasingly critical to engaging future employees around the world, across industries and generations.

  • Collaboration–as organizations become more complex, more global and more virtual, there is a need to insure that both internal and external collaboration continually occurs. In the future, external collaboration will grow exponentially as a requirement, including working with suppliers, stakeholders, customers, consumers, other government entities, and nongovernmental organizations.
  • Authenticity–all generations have been affected by recent incidences of organizational excess and the use of political power for personal gain. In the future, organizations will need to harmonize messaging across all aspects of their operation so as to reflect core values in a transparent way through things like open financial books, blogging from public managers to line employees and collective wikis and full disclosure with regard to pay.
  • Personalization–no longer is it possible to process all employees in the same way with nearly identical employment offers, career paths and benefit options. Customizing the employee relationship so that it meets the needs of every generation at each life stage while providing them with the ability to attain their personal career goals is increasingly required.
  • Innovation–organizations will need to increasingly take traditional practices and turn them into innovative practices aligned with organizational strategy so as to provide a renewable and energizing source of ideas for the future and also to provide talented employees with personal learning and advancing skill sets.
  • Social Connection–organizations will need to offer fun, engaging environments, whether virtual or physical, that satisfy the basic human need to be a member of a true and functional community. Increasingly, this will probably include the use of social media tools and techniques allowing employees to connect with communities that best enable their workplace performance and support their life interests but will be done in a way that respects confidentiality and statutory requirements.

Creating this environment will require public administrators to be new and true leaders so that all of these key principles are supported and reinforced. Increasingly, information about us and those that we report to will be freely shared through Twitter, text messages, IMs and hundreds of sites where employees are able to publicly rate their bosses and the organization based upon consistency and authenticity as to what is said and done. As new/true leaders, we will be accountable to the governed, understand that everyone has a right to dissent and that leadership is distributed with hierarchies being eliminated. The democratization of information frees people from a hierarchial control of information and at the same time, challenges public administrators to respect confidentiality and honor organizational processes and procedures.

To build an organizational culture that enables performance at the highest levels in the future, public administrators will need to:

  • Adopt a global mindset that promotes career global assignments and ensures an understanding and respect for diversity within the community and the organization.
  • Build a reputation for the organization as being socially responsible and mission-focused so that employees are encouraged to seek out ideas from others and to be innovative across functions.
  • Become more connected through more advanced communications using a range of social media, blogs, wikis, communities of practice and online organizational social networks that connect employees, enable mass collaboration and improve the organization’s capabilities to innovate in the global marketplace.
  • Emphasize learning agility so that we and our employees acquire new knowledge and skills across functions so as to adapt to the changing environment.
  • Find ways to personalize the employee experience by offering a wide range of choices so that employees can self-select benefits and services to match their unique needs such as allowing employees to select their own desktop equipment and tools within a range of parameters.
  • Promote greater openness and transparency so that there is a clear bias toward full disclosure of the thought process leading to decisions that matter to the organization and to the community.
  • Build citizen leadership by developing a more pervasive approach to reinforcing the principles of openness and democracy through greater access to information and social collaboration in order to deliver outcomes more successfully.
  • Create a more inclusive organizational culture by building an environment that is sensitive to culture, ethnicity, race, age and other differences and that provide equitable access to opportunities, products and services for employees, suppliers and the community served.

This kind of culture can be encouraged through initiatives like reverse-mentoring wherein two employees from very different cultures and backgrounds create a working relationship with one another and also by the organization sponsoring events that promote diversity and inclusion.

In the final analysis, the world of work is changing faster than ever and public administrators need to be prepared to take advantage of the shifting workforce demographics, the rapid expansion of the digital workplace, the increased use of mobile technology and a growing culture of connectivity wherein significant value is increasingly realized by organizations from social media deployments.

ASPA member Christine Gibbs Springer is principal with Red Tape Limited in Las Vegas, NV, and a former ASPA president. Email: [email protected]

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