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Meeting the needs of different generations

The volume of change and amount of accountability HR has to deal with is significant
There’s an increasing pressure on leaders to manage the needs and wants of a massive talent pool. Shutterstock

By Mark Edgar

In the wake of 2018 and all that’s impacted the HR industry, it sometimes feels like we go home on Friday evening and come back to work on Monday to face a massive transformational change.

But from my experience, that’s not the case. Changes in HR have been happening gradually and incrementally over several years. However, they still seem to creep up on us.

All the levers of an organization, especially the people levers, are under stress. The volume of change and the amount of accountability HR leaders are having to deal with, to guide their organization through the change, are significant.

In all discussions on the future of work, there’s a lot of focus around how the wants of people are changing. From an organizational perspective for HR, while there’s a need to respond to that and make sure we have the right offering, we also need to keep several implications and considerations front of mind.

Multi-stage careers, age diversity, and wellness policies are just a few of the must-haves. Maintaining consistent and competitive salaries and benefits is one of the challenges that HR is facing, when it comes to addressing these must-haves. 

I’ve seen organizations put increasing emphasis on having the right amount of flexibility within their offerings. They are trying hard to maintain transparency to address the diverse needs – be it generational or life stage. In such a landscape, the design of the reward framework becomes even more critical.

At RSA, we aim to maximize the flexibility of different elements of our rewards package. We want to offer people choice in the benefits they select to ensure they meet their different needs as they progress through life’s stages.

Flexible wellness policies also give people choice. More and more organizations are introducing a benefits plan with various levels of coverage that people can choose from. If someone needs a personal trainer at this point in life, she has the freedom to get one. Although the cost can be relatively low, the impact of that is significant, in the long run. It shows that her employer is thinking of employees’ needs and giving them choice.

“Gen Z will comprise 32 per cent of the global population of 7.7 billion in 2019, nudging ahead of millennials, who will account for a 31.5 per cent share, based on Bloomberg analysis of United Nations data, and using 2000/2001 as the generational split,” according to a 2018 article by Bloomberg.

So, there’s an increasing pressure on leaders to manage the needs and wants of this massive talent pool. There’s no silver bullet. But if there were one area I would always prioritize, it would be investing in leaders to ensure they have the confidence and capabilities to understand the needs and wants of this generation. It’s important to address those needs but at the same time be consistent with other generations.

Leaders need to understand what defines each generation and what motivates each unique individual in their team. And the understanding must be catered. There has to be support and empowerment around each person’s work. At the end of the day, it’s about leaders having good conversations with their teams.

When those needs can’t be met, be transparent about why.

My role as CHRO has evolved to where, apart from having the obvious and practical change management perspective, I also now consider the emotional point of view. I have started to think a lot more about resilience and how individuals in my organization are dealing with change. I make it a point to tune into that emotional component much more now, to understand the health and broader goals of my organization.

Secondly, I’m finding an increased emphasis around one-on-one coaching of executive colleagues and other leaders to ensure they are equipped with skills needed to relate and communicate with a workforce comprised of those in gen Z to those who are re-entering the workplace, post-retirement.

As a profession, HR is expected to be more tuned in to change and demonstrate we can adapt quickly. But our colleagues in other functions aren’t always as tuned in. So HR has the responsibility to pass on the experience and knowledge to help other leaders in our organizations.

Something HR is still working through is the notion of being comfortable with using people analytics. Data is a powerful asset in the decision-making process. No more can you just care about an issue enough to push it through. You need the data to back up its need and surmise all the competing priorities. That’s a work in-progress for me personally, but also in many ways for our team here at RSA.

Of late, I’ve initiated a development program for millennials that allows me to be reverse mentored by a group of millennials outside of RSA. They keep me honest about what their generation is looking for in work, life, and in general.

The work that I do with the future foHRward conference has also given me a lot of insight and knowledge in how technology is shaping future generations. While I know that not everything will work, there are critical insights that I’ve applied within the RSA setup. 

We’ve created this very effective and flexible working program called BWOW—Better Ways of Working. The idea is to focus on how people work and build a sense of empowerment for our employees at RSA. It includes more hotelling, giving people more flexibility about how and where they do their work. This has now become one of the key parts of our value proposition.

We’ve also introduced a new dress code policy that allows people to be themselves and bring that level of self to work that will ensure they are at their most engaged. Simple things and small steps like this have a big impact in preparing for a new generation that has different wants and needs.

My curiosity has helped me navigate a paradigm shift in our industry. In being a part of professional networking groups, I’ve been able to see new knowledge being put to work and how it can be applied in different industries, and potentially in mine.

A flexible workplace ultimately, is a powerful workplace. How we harness this power will determine our ability to attract and retain millennials and the gen Zs. 

Giselle Kovary, president of n-gen People Performance, and Laura Hambley, president of Work EvOHlution, will be presenting new insights and research on workplace mobility and generational requirements at SCNetwork on March 20.

Mark Edgar is senior vice-president of human resources at RSA Canada in Toronto. He is a member of the Strategic Capability Network and co-founder of two Toronto based communities - future foHRward and the Millennial Crusade.

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Executive Blogger

The Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) is a membership-based organization for business leaders by business leaders. SCNetwork helps leaders achieve competitive strength through people, by providing a forum for leading-edge thinking and application. Our monthly events feature provocative and thoughtful speakers on issues preoccupying today's organizations. For more information about the SCNetwork, visit www.scnetwork.ca.
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