Retirement is set to present one of the biggest challenges for businesses in decades. With Baby Boomers fast leaving their careers for retirement and reports that the ‘Snowflake’ generation will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, businesses are faced with two significant challenges. The first is to transfer and retain the knowledge their businesses are built on, and the second is to ensure that working styles and environments meet the needs of the most transient and tech-savvy generation of all.
For the first time, the UK non-working population is rising faster than the workforce and the economic impact of an aging population is well documented. However, aside from the fiscal repercussions of this retirement swell, businesses must start to protect themselves from the forthcoming dearth of skills, talent and knowledge this represents. For many organisations it’s more than just skills, knowledge and experience that will be walking out of the door – it’s leadership too. Replacing people, skills and talent takes both time and money due to the time delay between skills demand and education. Successful succession planning needs thought, nurturing and mentoring too. So how will businesses cope?
Perhaps the most obvious yet important strategy is that of improved employee engagement. All generations add value to the workplace – for the digital skills, energy and ideas that younger generations contribute, the older generation often has industry expertise, context, leadership and insights in abundance. Finding ways to blend and marry these generations in the workplace is important, as it is the cross-pollination of working styles and the ability to work with others that will also transfer knowledge.
The growing focus on creating collaborative and team spaces in office interior design is very much a response to this, with these areas designed to support sharing knowledge and delivering peer-to-peer mentoring, as well as typical day-to-day teamwork and progress meetings. Equally, the introduction of non-allocated desking, activity-based work settings and creative training spaces support this idea further by encouraging movement and sociability, and therefore communication and knowledge sharing within the workplace.
As Millennials replace Baby Boomers in their droves, businesses need their workplace, culture and working styles to reflect the changing workforce dynamics and demands of this younger generation. The foundations for effective Millennial-orientated environments are tech-rich and mobile, social and varied, the embodiment of brand and culture and employee-centric, making them feel connected and engaged with their employer’s ethics, values and goals in a meaningful way. These elements are already present in some of the world’s most talked-about workplaces (think Google, Facebook and Airbnb). Although not every business will have the means or inclination to create such statement spaces, these examples highlight the need to do things differently to compete in an ongoing war for talent and to meet the powerful expectations of the new generation of talent.
Interestingly, in catering for Millennials you may also help to keep Baby Boomers’ knowledge in the workplace for longer. While many Baby Boomers will retire, there will be others who do not want to or can’t afford to step away. This presents an opportunity to harness their talent and skills in a new way – perhaps in part-time or consultancy-based roles, by providing training for younger members of the team or simply buying you a little longer while succession planning and recruitment activity is accelerated. Collaborative, flexible and mobile-friendly workspaces will help to harness this talent and ensure that even the most part-time workers feel integrated and involved.
Improving engagement requires a holistic look at all things relating to your people – from training and development to working practices and processes through to organisational culture and the suitability of the environments your people occupy. While the workplace was once just a place to ‘house’ employees, business leaders now know the benefits a well-designed workplace can deliver to an organisation and its people. An extension of the brand, effective workplaces reflect the work that is done and the people doing it, to deliver positive business outcomes.
If you’ve read the mainstream media, you’ll know that ‘Snowflakes’ have been billed as self-entitled, delicate, tech-obsessed, socially inept, risk-taking and career hungry. It’s hardly a ringing endorsement, but like it or not, Generation Snowflake is the future of business. Finding ways to ready your business, in terms of culture, processes and environment, will not only help to ensure your organisation appeals to the new generation, but also gets the best from Baby Boomers during one of the greatest workforce transitions of the last century.
Companies that have talent management programmes in place, nurture both the skills and wellbeing of their people, invest in strong and supportive cultures and which recognise the value of all generations based on their skills rather than age, stand to weather the retirement storm best of all. It’s time to ask your management team: are you ready for dramatic workforce and workplace change?