Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Mind Your Xs And Ys

Over the years, we have seen the average age of CEOs and senior managers reduce significantly in the post-liberalisation era. This, however, does not take us away from the fact that there is still a significant number of older senior managers in our organisations. So while employees in the rest of the world are growing older by the day, the median age of Indians is currently 25.1 years (as per the CIA World Factbook). At the same time, the average age of this year’s incoming CEO class within Asia was 52.9 years (as quoted by Booz & Company).

This large disparity in age, while working at the same managerial level, creates complex issues for the organisation. Alongside, it puts HR professionals in a quandary, while they are trying to create engagement activities that appeal to employees across age spans. It is intriguing to observe and understand how HR managers have been customising and improvising HR activities while trying to maintain consistency within their HR policies. It is also interesting to note whether or not it is even desirable for organisations to categorise and treat employees according to their age groups, and how some of them have been able to leverage this phenomenon as a strategic advantage through workforce planning.

At a very broad and fundamental level, all employees have similar expectations from their workplace in terms of mission, opportunities, fairness and transparency, and workplace environment. For example, everyone wants to be treated with respect, no matter what level of age group they belong to. However, generational differences oftentimes equate to differing values and needs. The members of each generation bring distinct sets of values, attitudes and behaviours to the workplace, largely as a result of the era in which they grew up.

The availability and changes in technology as well as access to information have had a significant effect on employees’ attitudes to work and the workplace. Benefits in the areas of health, money, career, work-life balance, and post-retirement entitlements are also viewed quite differently by employees of different generations. As a result of this, organisations that once embraced a “one-size-fits-all” approach to total rewards should now consider generational differences in employee needs and motivations, as well as find ways to let employees choose different options.

In the Indian context, we could possibly divide our workforce into two broad groups: employees who came to the workforce before the economic liberalisation and the IT revolution, and those who joined the workforce later. With an overwhelmingly large working population in India being in the age group of 25 to 30 years (the Office of the Registrar General says that this group constitutes more than 16.24 per cent of the population, as per the last held census in 2001), most HR policies in the new economy organisations, especially at the entry-level have been designed and implemented keeping this age group in mind. Once we move above this level, however, we have an extremely diverse span of age groups, and we enter an exciting and complex area of employee engagement. That these employees have different needs is a given, but professionals differ in their opinions on how to address these needs. A small yet significant section believes that having an organisational culture that is strong, omnipresent and well-communicated negates the need for tailoring engagement activities. However, in organisations where the unique culture is not all-pervasive, it possibly makes more sense to introduce tactical changes in engagement modes while staying consistent and true to the vision and culture of the organisation.

The team at THF has encountered an unusually diverse range of opinions on dealing with the issue of a generation gap at the workplace, and dear reader, we would love to hear from you too.

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