The Forum Network is a space for experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society— to discuss and develop solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields, and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
Organisations need to be more resilient than ever to respond to high inflation and energy costs, global economic instability, and changing worker and customer expectations prompted by events like the pandemic. Of the many issues organisations are dealing with today, one of the most prevalent is the labour and skills shortage. A 2022 Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey found over 70% of CEOs feared shortages could disrupt the delivery of their business strategy over the next 12 months.
Organisations five years ago may have implemented a ‘restructure and rehire’ strategy to create a fit-for-purpose workforce. Today, it’s increasingly difficult to fill the ‘hire’ part of the equation. So new strategies are being adopted to meet workforce needs. The Human Resource Directors (HRDs) I speak to are focused more than ever on retention, reskilling and hiring from previously underrepresented talent pools, such as older and early career workers, from more diverse backgrounds.
Also on the Forum Network: Diverse, Not Divided: Making multigenerational work by Tatiana S Rowson and Mike Mansfield
The global labour force is becoming more age diverse, meaning that we are increasingly more likely to find grandparents and grandchildren working together. But despite this new phenomenon, the issue of ageism still persists. How can we tackle it?
The question is, how can organisations tackle skills shortages and build the resilience to achieve high performance and profitability even during challenging periods? By building a sustainable workforce.
The sustainable workforce
Businesses are facing cost pressures, an unpredictable environment, a need for constant skills transformation and evolving worker expectations. With one survey showing a third of workers experiencing burnout, and a disconnect between leadership and the workforce post-pandemic, it is critical for employers to rethink workforce management. By viewing the employee experience holistically, from pre-onboarding through to exit and transition, organisations can create a framework to transform the workforce in a sustainable way.
Workers want career development and organisations require skills. But workers do not feel they are being invested in. Sustainable workforce practices not only empower and enable individuals to future-proof their employability, but also take consideration of the evolving population. Indeed, working longer is becoming an imperative around the globe, and with that the need to accommodate a multi-generational workforce.
The benefits and challenges of a multi-generational workforce
These benefits are generally well recognised, from more meaningful knowledge sharing to different perspectives and ideas, diversified skills and improved customer experience. The accumulated knowledge of Baby Boomers (born between 1946-64, currently 57-75 years old) is also hugely beneficial for training, development and mentoring programmes.
But the challenges of managing and engaging a workforce that spans multiple generations can be multifarious and complex. Work priorities, attitudes and needs can vary.
Research shows that Millennials (Gen Y, born between 1982-94) value career guidance through training more than any other generation, while Gen Zers (born after 2000) prioritise a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Young workers may require – and prefer – in-person training and mentoring, but they cannot learn from more experienced workers if those workers prioritise and enjoy remote working.
Recent Adecco Group research, which surveyed over 30,000 office-based and non-office-based workers globally, found that half of workers fear experiencing burnout in the future.
However, different generations express similar attitudes and priorities with regard to wellbeing and career development. Recent Adecco Group research, which surveyed over 30,000 office-based and non-office-based workers globally, found that half of workers fear experiencing burnout in the future and agree that employers can and should support wellbeing by encouraging employees to take full annual leave, allowing time off for mental health concerns and building a culture of trust. Flexible working is also valued across generations, especially by Millennials and Gen X, as is career development.
A multi-generational, sustainable workforce
So how can a multi-generational workforce become a thriving workforce of the future? For organisations that want to build skills and organisational resilience, we find the following strategies to be particularly effective:
Build a culture of trust and work-life integration
Satisfy multi-generational and business needs by building a culture of trust. Move away from a control mentality and set clear expectations for productivity over the number of hours worked, if possible. Consider how leadership teams can engage in role modelling and build trust. Workforce transformation is only successful in the long term when there is a culture of trust in place to support it.
Adopt inclusive policies and practices and work flexibility
Implement inclusion strategies that accommodate the needs of different generations. Flexible working options are valued at all ages, so allow these to become a standard where possible. Strike a balance between remote working and in-person training needs. Hire responsibly and ensure your hiring process removes bias, commit to diversity and inclusion, and make leaders accountable.
Invest in employability and mobility to future-proof the business
Implement an internal career mobility strategy focused on skills mapping, sharing and development that builds on senior leadership buy-in. Invest in upskilling/reskilling for all and make these opportunities visible so employees can own their career development. Workers expect to have different jobs during their careers, and lifetime learning will be necessary to stay relevant. Career coaching is a strong driver for engagement in skilling activities. Be strategic about skills sourcing, as this can boost retention and save on redundancy and recruitment costs.
Use data to guide HR and leadership decisions
There are no one-size-fits-all HR solutions – a diverse workforce and an inclusive workplace demands a personalised, human-centred approach. Gather demographical data on your workforce and use surveys to uncover employee preferences, priorities and motivations. This intelligence will shape and personalise HR strategy.
By creating a workplace where diverse, multi-generational teams can thrive, and providing opportunities for skills development and career advancement at all levels, organisations can build a sustainable, resilient workforce.
To learn more, read the OECD report Retaining Talent at All Ages
The deep and rapid changes in the world of work driven by the digital and green transformations as well as population ageing have been associated with greater job instability, with potential costs for companies, workers and society. The unprecedented labour and skill shortages that emerged during the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic have raised further the importance of developing and retaining talent. In the context of a more age-diverse workforce, addressing this challenge will require better working conditions, greater investments in training and tackling difficulties in reconciling work with health issues and caring responsibilities. This report presents evidence on recent trends in job tenure and employee turnover, how they have changed due to the COVID-19 shock and sheds light on why employees quit their jobs. It identifies key employer and public policies that can support increased employment retention through better job quality, health at the workplace, and training and skills.
And read: The Importance of Communication, Boundaries, and Inclusion in Retaining Young Talent by Emma Waldman
To realise the benefits and power of a generationally diverse workforce, we need to learn how to collaborate and appreciate our unique preferences, habits, and behaviours. Humility is required, but the understanding that there isn’t a single right way to work will pay off in the long run, explains Emma Waldman.