HomeBusiness DigestIt is time you understand your workforce

It is time you understand your workforce

The people that are within organisations are not exactly similar to each other; there is diversity according to culture, race and age.

Sam Hlabati

In this instalment, we will focus our discussion on identifying the diversity of different age groups, otherwise known as the generations.

The active workforce generations that are recognised globally are Generation Y: Born around 1977 to 1995; Generation X: Born about 1965 to 1976; Baby Boomers: Born about 1946 to 1964.

The dates would differ between different thinkers. However, because the differences are not significant; I take it that the generations do overlap by around five years into each other.

We will contextualise these generations into our own local environment.

Gen Y, also known as the Millennials, was born from 1977 to 1995. This is the generation that began the revolution of moving between jobs. In our local context, these are the born-Frees; who came into the world of work post-independence.

Armed with emancipation through freedom of movement and freedom of association, they took the same to be extrapolated to freely moving between employers; never expecting to work for one employer their entire life.

Some thought leaders believe this generation has supersized career expectations. Some critics say this generation ask questions such as, “Why can’t I be a manager?

I have worked for the company for a full year!”. The parents to this generation are the Baby Boomers who are constantly trying to “enlighten” the Millennials about the value of sticking to one employer pointing out at promotion opportunities and the value of building a track record.

There is a belief that the Generation Y workers are tech – savvy.

We may need to challenge this belief. Can we say that people who cannot add or subtract without calculator; cannot write a complete sentence without pressing the back space to correct their sentence construction; and cannot spell without spell-checker are savvy in any way.

What about saying this generation is heavily dependent on technology therefore they have no option but to understand the technology.

We could say that Generation Y know how to interface with user friendly technology; and that they do not necessarily know how technology works unless they are tech geeks.

Maybe they just cannot without the help of technology which is different from the older generations who are self-sufficient. For the leader, it is important to realise that Generation Y could possibly be less productive in the absence of technology; for they are used to automated instant processes.

We have the “less tech – savvy” (for the lack of a more appropriate phrase) Generation X who are the 1965 to 1976 group; allowing for the overlaps as discussed earlier.

This generation in our context was born during the struggle. For those that were born in the rural areas, they would remember the sounds of gunfire during the liberation struggle; hiding behind elders in fear. The ones born in the urban areas would not have much recollection other than growing up when the television was a luxury for the few.

Generation X is fascinated with change; for during their lifetime they have witnessed the changes in our environment. They entered the world of work at a time when there were massive leaps of change. The changes from manual systems came at a time when they were getting to grips with understanding their careers.

These are the resistant group that started their careers during the eve of the decline of the economy.

When you speak to this group, they will tell you they have seen enough dramatic changes to last a last a life time. The middle management in most organisations is mostly made up of Generation X; who are generally more innovative in their approach as compared to their older colleagues.

Generation X also moves between organisations, though with relative lesser propensity as compared to Generation Y.

The oldest of the workforce are the Baby Boomers who were born from 1946 to 1964. Some of them are now a couple of years into retirement or about to go. Their youngest folk are in the fifties. These are the group that are called “Madharas”.

They have seen the whole order of the workplace from pre-independence. This age group is generally characterised by being the workaholics in organisations.

They tend to loyally serve their current organisation, a phenomenon that cuts across all job levels. Madharas have come to realise that the key to job security and career success has been to work harder than the next person.

This generation by custom arrive at work early, stay at work till late, work on weekends and expect the other generations to do the same. They are known for using a calculator to confirm calculations on MsExcel spread sheets, all because they believe in their own abilities more than they believe in technology.

As bosses, Madharas believe everyone must be prepared for the unexpected, will you believe it if I tell you that they most often carry two pens instead of one, just in case their pen stops working. They value policies and procedures, in keeping order in the workplace.

The reality of the present day workforce is that the Madharas are checking out and the next seniors will be the Generation X. This means that the next crop of middle managers is the Born-Frees. This new work-force order requires that organisations begin to rethink the way they manage people.

With the not-so-loyal-to-a-single-employer Generation Y moving into the future middle management role, what should the implications be for the organisation structuring process? The operational processes in an organisation are run through middle managers. With the organisation- hoping-crew holding these key ranks, what does the future hold for leaders who wish to ensure continuity of business operations.

It is important to note that the propensity to change organisations is a desire that has to be fulfilled, which will make talent retention the more difficult.

Taking into cognisance that Generation Y is “technology dependent” and competence is relatively equated to the ability to manipulate the technology, organisations should consider an innovative way of creating middle management structures that can withstand the inevitable movement of people across organisations.

A rotating team leadership to gradually replace fixed incumbent middle management could be a viable option. The technically competent team members could take turn to lead their own team.
Sam Hlabati is a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP®) and a Global Remuneration Professional (GRP®). Email samhlabati@gmail.com; twitter handle; @samhlabati


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