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Small Business Digest


Flexibility Needed As Young, Old Workers Demand Changes In Workforce Management

Employers face a perfect storm of workforce management challenges:

More and more generation X and Gen Y workers are focused on work they prefer and the flexibility in what they do and when they do it.

At the same time, older workers are needed for their institutional knowledge and experience.

In addition, for differing reasons the oldest and youngest age strata workers prefer flexibility in their working environment.

This trend poses serious challenges for companies and their HR professionals.

Kevin Grossman of  Peoplefluid addresses these issues in a thoughtful analysis.

Grossman says according to a survey from The Future Workplace, 91 percent of workers born between 1977 and 1997 expect to stay in a job for less than three years, amounting to between 15 and 20 jobs over the course of their careers.  

Although many of the most seasoned, senior-level employees are retiring, nearly 1 in 5 Americans ages 65 and older are working or looking for jobs — the highest in almost half a century. About 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 each day, according to the Pew Research Center—a trend which will persist for the next 16 years.  

It’s no surprise that many HR practitioners struggle to figure how best to keep their workforce domain expertise and skill levels intact by successfully managing a generationally diverse workforce.

In fact, there are now five generations of gender, ethnic, cultural, skills and experience diversity clamoring for full-time, part-time and increasing freelance/contract employment in this new world of evolving project-based, collaborative work.

The progressive enterprise is adapting accordingly.

Consider the millennials in this mix and some of their common attributes that determine best practices for management.

Multiple studies confirm that millennials have different workplace demands than did Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers.  They tend to have little patience for jobs that require them to be isolated in a cubicle from 9-to-5, desire constant feedback on the work they are doing, and are constantly looking for their next challenge.

Grossman suggests HR managers consider making a few process changes to directly address these preferences.  

  • Perhaps launch an “exchange” cross-training program whereby junior and mid-level employees spend a day or a week working in a different department, or require managers to assign employees to at least one experimental assignment or project per quarter.  
  • Rework the review process to require managers to meet monthly with each member of their teams to discuss performance and career development goals, whether they’re physically in the main office or not.  

Further,  according to an April 2013 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of workers born between 1980 and 1995 (Gen Y), more than two-thirds of respondents said they place value on companies that allow them to occasionally work from home and shift their work hours. Interestingly enough, workers nearing retirement or returning to the workforce following retirement have similar flexibility demands, albeit, for different reasons.

He points out that in a 2012 CareerBuilder survey, more than half of U.S. workers surveyed age 60 and up said they plan to look for project-based work after retiring from their current positions.  Retirees are often highly seasoned resources companies can leverage to fill skill gaps, consult on high-level projects and provide a ready source of mentoring/training today’s younger workers are seeking.  

However, unlike their younger cohorts, most retirees have no intention of working full-time hours, and may want to work a few days or even a few hours a week in between enjoying retired life. As a result, employers that offer flexible hours and remote work options are most attractive.

This is why full-time teams aren’t always needed anymore to get the work done.

It could be a team of part-time contractors young and old managed by a vendor contracted by an organization and project managed by HR — or a myriad of multifaceted combinations therein.

They could be short-term projects where teams move from one employer to another, or turn into longer term projects where individuals are recruited to come on full-time or at least contracted for ongoing freelance work.

Flexibility in how individuals work has become a huge incentive to land the best talent from all generations and companies integrating that into their offers are coming out the big winners. A companywide Unilever policy permits 100,000 employees—everyone except factory production workers—to work anytime, anywhere, as long as they meet business needs. This has helped to improve overall performance and retention.

Grossman points to a common theme – all generations, for their own specific reasons, are demanding flexibility. Organizations that are nimble when it comes to building and maintaining a mix of contract and full-time employees and that afford all employees options in how and when they work set a good model for managing multiple generations.

Kevin Grossman has held multiple leadership positions in the human resource and recruiting marketplace before joining Peoplefluent, he held roles as Director of BraveNewTalent and Chief Strategy Officer for


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