How to Engage a Multi-Generational Workforce

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce, employee engagement is at a record low. To me, this is quite staggering.

In Southeast Asia, just 19% of employees are engaged. This means that 1/5 of your business believe in your mission and vision and are working at high capacity. It also means more than three-quarters of your business is disengaged or actively disengaged. In East Asia, it is even worse with only 6% of employees engaged. Think about that for a moment, and what financial impact that will have on your business.  

Why does employee engagement matter?

Surely the level of engagement is an academic topic, and engagement is optional?

Wrong. Employee engagement, or disengagement, has a significant impact across your entire business. Employee engagement or the lack of it can be evident in real life situations and corporate KPIs, i.e.

  • The attention to detail that gets afforded to customers leading to both initial sales and repeat business
  • Levels of productivity
  • Levels of errors and rework
  • Accident rates

In terms of human resources costs, engagement and disengagement can be directly measured in dollars.

  • Level of sickness and absence in the team
  • Levels of staff retention as individuals who are disengaged can either require extra-disciplinary processes to be applied or just exit the company and need to be replaced
  • All of this impacts profitability and share growth

But what if an organisation deliberately takes time to really engage with its employees? What if it shakes up its HR processes and systems and adopts the very latest research and thinking? What if it creates conditions where employees can actively engage with each other across teams?

Identifying the different needs of a diverse workforce

We’ve always had different generations working together, so why is this situation raising challenges for human resource management now?

There are 3 main reasons:

  1. The different generations have different values and expectations regarding work which are not easily compatible.
  • Each generation has a set of ideals and behaviours based upon their early lives and the world they grew up in
  • The things that are valued by a 20-year-old will be quite different from the things that are valued by a 50-year-old
  1. People from different generations are working together for longer periods than ever before.
  • They are less likely to follow the clear cut studies-work-retirement path that was formerly standard.
  • People leave their jobs, upgrade their skills, look for new jobs, change careers, retire and then, increasingly, re-enter the labour market.
  1. Thirdly, the way that a company organises its operations and its labour force help to either improve or hinder the level of cooperation and engagement with people from such a diverse range of ages.
  • Stable, high-quality jobs are becoming scarce
  • Employees are not always able to accumulate the funds needed to ensure financial security during retirement and they may find themselves having to work longer
  • Those who have invested in enhancing their skills and who have had unstable careers are staying in the workforce longer

In the old days, the only time a manager would find out about an employee’s values and drivers would be at their initial interview. The only time a manager would find out a hint of the employee's level of engagement was either at the annual appraisal or worse, at an unforeseen Exit Interview, after the white envelope has been delivered to their desk.

How do we make the workplace harmonious for all and become an employer of choice?

Several things can be done:

  1. Create a positive candidate experience
  • Candidates have a lot of choice. In fact, they are interviewing you at the same time as you are interviewing them!
  • If you have a clunky process that requires 3 paper signatures between steps and doesn’t give fast, real-time progression updates to the candidate, then by the time you have processed them and made them an offer, they will already be working for your best competitor.
  1. Evaluate your recruitment practices and when recruiting, put your organisation values at the heart of your offering
  • Many younger generations, in particular, want to work for an employer whose values matches their own
  1. Re-evaluate your company’s reward and recognition system
  • Move from tenure based progression to competence and performance-based progression
  • Think about how you link performance and reward systems: are different people motivated by extrinsic or intrinsic motivators
  • Think about alternative approaches to recognition – not just top-down but what about peer-to-peer recognition?
  1. Focus on career/personal growth opportunities
  • Not just through formal training, but think about how you want to augment training with targeted coaching and mentoring
  • Could secondment to another team to get experience be helpful? It may well be if you are missing a vital jigsaw piece to progress to the next level
  • Invest in a corporate social responsibility programme that people can get involved in
  1. Make efforts to identify and appoint really good managers and leaders
  • Don't just promote an excellent operator to the role of people manager and let them sink or swim
  • Drive your processes and systems to identify competencies in the potential manager and then add targeted training and development 
  1. Improve manager-employee relationships through regular check-ins

What are check-ins?

One of the key ways that we can understand every person that works for us is through regular check-ins. They are essentially micro-appraisals and have an astonishing effect on the workforce.

Check-ins are informal meetings held between managers and employees to discuss everything from progress and goals to happiness and engagement.

Some of the key benefits that check-ins bring include:

  • Solving issues as they arise
  • Help build healthy relationships between employees and managers
  • Allow managers to become coaches and mentors
  • Drive engagement and performance because there is a better relationship between the manager and employee and the employee feels that they are recognised as an individual.

Knowing employees plays a crucial role in motivating employees to deliver their level best. Knowing employees helps managers to understand their needs and expectations from the organisation.  

Using technology to increase employee engagement

The final topic I’d like to bring in to the sphere of employee engagement is the role that technology plays.

In a world where remote working is increasingly common, the ability for employees to connect on a human level has never been more important.

As we have seen with the rise of social media, technology has the ability to make people feel connected, regardless of where they are located. People enjoy sharing content, keeping in touch, and providing feedback and recognition in an online community.

Social media is one thing, but what about human interaction and the flow of information in the workplace?

Coinciding with a shift towards a more personalised approach to work, where employees not only seek greater flexibility but also the ability to express themselves as individuals, organisations need, more than ever, to use technology that allows information to flow quickly between people and break down departmental silos. After all, people can leave a job quickly and take away with them a lot of information that may not be written down in a process or recipe.

All of this feeds directly into employee engagement. Employees who feel connected to their colleagues, and who understand the direction the organisation is heading and their role in it, are far more likely to feel engaged in their work. Likewise, employees who are treated as individuals rather than just another number are more likely to thrive in the workplace.

With technology, we can increase employee engagement by:

Simplifying and improving the employee experience  

  • Put all of the company policies and processes in one obviously accessible place. This replaces the need for people to hold local copies, or to have to ask a dozen people where the latest travel policy is
  • A good system can arrange to provide all of the company news and announcements in one simple social feed
  • Provide a complete HR system in one place to ensure there is one system of record and can speed up or automate many routine HR tasks.

Improve performance management and use technology to understand how employees are feeling  

  • A modern HR system should be able to manage micro appraisals, check-ins and regular pulse surveys to understand how employees are feeling

Improve social interaction  

  • Ensure your HR tech contains modules and features deliberately designed to improve social interaction in a workforce
  • It should actively but respectfully encourage people to understand each other on a more personal level
  • It should provide a place for people to connect and collaborate on work issues on an individual, team or organisational level

Use it to improve recognition  

  • Employee engagement tech is not complete without encouraging team members to share ideas and give each other recognition for great work. This should be manager to employee, employee to manager, peer to peer and should be visible to everyone in the organisation. Believe it or not, this quickly changes the way a person thinks about themselves as part of a team and in a company.

So, to loop back to the original statistics I shared, we can’t carry on ignoring how our employees are feeling about work, we need to take action now to improve engagement. In doing so, not only will our employees see the benefits – our businesses will too!


Andrew Jones - https://people-first.com/

As Senior Vice President (APAC) at People First, Andrew heads up the APAC operations from Singapore, working with key partners in the region to deliver combined HR and payroll solutions to help them on their journey into the future of work. 

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