Guest Column | February 10, 2016

5 Ways Technology Can Help Organizations Adapt To A Multi-Generational Workforce

Adaptive Learning Technology Is Gaining Ground: IT Solutions Providers Can Capitalize On The Trend

By Katie Burke, senior government program strategist, Laserfiche

There are many stereotypes of the generational cohorts in today’s workforce. Are all Millennials ambitious but entitled, Gen Xers hard working and status-driven, and Boomers socially progressive but resistant to change?

Regardless of common stereotypes, it’s time to look beyond them to answer a more important question: how can IT create a culture that enables different generations to effectively work together?

Clearly, not every stereotype applies to every member of a given generation. There are wild differences in preferences and attitudes between age groups in any workplace, and these differences can present both major challenges and opportunities.

With 8,000 Boomers retiring each day and Millennials estimated to make up roughly half the U.S. workforce by 2020, the next few years will be an exciting time of transformation for organizations. In order to adapt to this evolving workforce, organizations must not only adopt new technologies but also modernize existing processes. Here are five ways IT can help bridge generational gaps so everyone benefits.

Technique #1: Reconsider Standard Job Descriptions And Career Paths
Millennials don’t respond well to rigid hierarchy and they prefer rapid progression within the organization. To attract younger candidates, rewrite job descriptions to advertise what matters to millennials: professional development, mentoring, and flexibility.

But even before you begin interviewing candidates, think about different paths a potential employee could take so you can address questions about flexible career paths. Be prepared to emphasize the opportunity for professional advancement and increased responsibility, as well as personal growth.

And remember, while benefits and perks are important they’re not everything, especially to millennials who crave immediate impact. If your organization offers millennials the opportunity to work directly with senior or executive management or have the responsibility of owning or driving a significant project, be sure to let them know!

Technique #2: Enable Disruption ... Wisely
When millennials see a process as broken or in need of improvement, they frequently will do what they view as fixing it without necessarily worrying about what other generations might view as common courtesies, such as asking permission or going up the chain of command. While this disruptive attitude can come across as entitled to generations raised to respect authority, for organizations invested in automating, optimizing, and transforming business processes — with guidance — this desire for disruption can become a significant asset.

Encourage millennials to diagram business processes to ensure they are as simple, logical, and consistent as possible, then let them work with organizational stakeholders to translate them into automated workflows. Cutting out the busywork associated with expense report submission, invoice and purchase approval, travel request submission, and contract approval is one way to support efficient-minded millennials that will satisfy overwhelmed Gen Xers, too.

Technique #3: Out Of Sight, Not Out Of Mind
In a 2012 survey of college-educated millennials, 60 percent considered work from home policies to be an important factor in deciding whether to accept a new job. Yet while flexibility is a word that’s often thrown around when it comes to millennial workers, it’s a concept that appeals to all generations.

Bring your own device (BYOD) policies are an effective way to support millennials, Gen Xers, and Boomers alike. Before offering BYOD privileges, it is important to set up secure mobile access to internal systems. For instance, enterprise content management (ECM) systems offer a wide range of functionality to ensure that once the employee finishes accessing privileged information, all data is cleared from his personal device and he is logged out of the session. In addition, security best practices can limit who accesses what information, with documents stored in ECM systems secured through access control lists, security tags, and disabled export to ensure sensitive information is viewable only by authorized personnel.

In exchange for flexible work privileges, employees should be willing to offer a reasonable level of transparency. Project deadlines, regular check-in meetings, and availability by instant message are a few reasonable ways to hold remote employees accountable.

Technique #4: Encourage Collaboration And Communication
Millennials are used to constant communication via IM, text, and social media, while Gen Xers prefer face-to-face or phone meetings. To support both, IT departments should provide social sharing, group chat, and video conferencing software or beware of shadow IT as employees of both generations implement their own solutions.

One way to improve collaboration is to use e-forms to standardize communication for common interactions. When everyone is submitting the same form, it removes the possibility of confusion over communication method, style, and tone. E-forms help control and route common requests, which ensures approvals occur quickly.

Technique #5: Build Connections Between Generations
Instead of locking workers into a single career trajectory, many companies are embracing job rotation which moves employees through a variety of positions within departments or teams. Job rotation satisfies millennials’ need for constant progression and growth, while keeping them anchored at the organization.

Whether through a job rotation program, formally or informally, mentoring is a great way to build intergenerational connections. When generations learn from each other, they ultimately understand and respect each other. Millennials are able to learn and develop their skillsets, while Gen Xers and Boomers can leave a long-lasting impact on the organization by sharing their knowledge.

With their mobile, collaborative, social lifestyle, millennials crave a different type of mentoring which can cause friction with other generational groups. Consider supporting online, self-organizing mentoring groups; using anonymous online feedback tools; or reverse mentoring, where younger employees mentor senior executives.

About The Author
Katie Burke is senior government program strategist at Laserfiche, a market leader providing powerful enterprise content management solutions that automate, optimize and transform document-driven business processes.