Employers are out of touch with what generations of workers really want, a report has found.
The latest report by recruiting giant Chandler Macleod released on Wednesday found that while business leaders thought they were catering well for the needs of Generation Y (born in 1980-1994), Generation X (1965-1979), Baby boomers (1946-1964) and Traditionalists (born before 1946), the workers had far less glowing perceptions.
The report, Talent Management: The Next Wave, was based on surveys of 233 senior managers, leaders and specialists and 287 employees across Australia and New Zealand.
It found all generations most wanted flexible work conditions, which included flexible hours and part-time work. However, only 12 per cent of Generation Y, 21 per cent of Generation X and 27 per cent of Baby boomers gave their employer good marks in this area.
Employers were also out of step with the top priorities for each generation, particularly generations X and Y that now account for 69 per cent of their workforce.
Youngest workers fare worst
Employers were worst at identifying what their youngest workers wanted, believing Generation Y wanted “employee development”, “regular goal setting” and “continuous review of talent”, when in fact these workers said they most valued “flexible work conditions”, “employee-focused development” and “regular goal setting”.
Employers underestimated Generation X’s desire for “training to keep up with the times” and Baby boomers’ and Traditionalists’ desire for “continuous coaching and feedback”.
Generation X and Y workers were also more negative about how successful their employer had been in catering for their generation than older workers were. While 17 per cent of employers thought their use of social media was effective as part of a strategy to manage younger workers, only 1 per cent of Gen Ys saw this as effective in practice.
Staff wanted flexible working conditions, as well as flexible work environments (this included being able to work from anywhere rather than having to sit at a desk). While 76 per cent of employers agreed that flexible working arrangements provided a positive return on investment, a third of employers surveyed said there was an inverse relationship between flexible work arrangements and productivity. The report also found 50 per cent of employers did not have any generation- specific talent management strategies and only 48 per cent of employers thought that age had an impact on the needs of their workers.
Chandler Macleod chief executive Cameron Judson, said he was not surprised that there was such a disjunct between what workers wanted and what employers presumed they wanted.
“We have four different generations working side by side, each with their own traits and tendencies; so clearly a one-size-fits-all approach to attracting and retaining talent isn’t going to work,” he said.
He said the key message in the report for leaders was to be relevant to employees. “This means management by walking the floor, knowing your team, being interested in them and not sitting at a PC screen all day,” he argued.
He suggested the reason that employers seemed to misjudge younger workers the most was because the “default approach to leadership is to lead others the way they were led”.
“As we gain better insights into Gen X and Millennials in the workplace, employers have to adapt from traditional talent management approaches (hierarchical, top-down, process focused, external rewards) to emerging trends (networked, outcome-focused, intrinsic rewards, matrix organisations) he said
The report recommended collecting data on the different generations to adapt approaches that are relevant to each generation. It suggested offering flexible work arrangements equally across the workforce and making it easier for managers to produce and retain talent with policies that support ongoing education, talent mobility, career growth and internal development.