Business leaders and HR professionals in the West have been dealing with three systemic changes impacting employee engagement and work culture. In India, some of these changes are also manifesting. This article discusses these changes and unique challenges and provides some action items to prepare for the new workplaces in India.
The 21st-century workforce changes are arriving faster than at any other time in the history of organized work. By 2025, the workplace we know today will have altered signiﬁcantly. These changes include multigenerational workforce, remote employees, and gig economy and contract work. All three will alter the way culture is built and sustained in the organization. Doing what we do today will not give us the results we want.
As several businesses are observing, there are up to ﬁve generations in the workplace: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zers. (See Figure 1.) With life expectancy on the rise and the retirement concept becoming irrelevant, those born in the Fifties are working with those born in the late 1990s. Expectations from career, life aspirations and needs are vastly different amongst these generations, causing them to value different aspects of the organizational culture. Whilst Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are comfortable with hierarchy and a chain of command, the Millennials expect to be able to contribute and lead projects and work across levels without barriers. Similarly, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers value parental beneﬁts whilst Millennials value opportunities for experiences. Balancing different aspects is critical if you want your organization to remain attractive to different generational cohorts. One size does not ﬁt all. Building a supportive culture which values each of these generational groups and yet is cost-effective is key. For example, a ﬂex beneﬁts and recognition model which allows employees to pick and choose what they value is a strategic decision. The organization needs to review its strategic options, invest in enabling technology and prepare managers to have robust communication with prospective candidates and team members.
It is easy to build a culture when everyone shows up to work and you can depend upon traditional approaches of team meetings, town halls and face-to-face meetings. Uniformity of messaging, dressing up, timings and ofﬁce structures lend themselves to sustaining a work culture that you want. The pressure of long commutes, preferred living locations, spousal relocations, global timelines and real estate costs are creating remote-worker arrangements in many white-collar roles. The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce reported that 2.9% of the total U.S. workforce work remotely. Technology has made this practical and easier which permits an employee to work from anywhere and anytime. Many employees have no need to come to the ofﬁce and are far more productive and effective from their remote location. How do you build a consistent experience and recognized culture for these employees? Training managers to work with remote teams, in cross-cultural sensitization, and to providing an experience for remote employees which they value (ﬂexibility on work hours, technology access, ongoing communication and involvement using all possible modes) would be critical.
Gig Economy and Contract Workforce
The ability to employ someone for a speciﬁc assignment is spreading across the business world. It ﬁts in the Millennials’ expectations of working only on what interests them, provides for specialization and reduces ongoing employment costs. The gig economy is like the contract workforce arrangements that companies have long used. In most companies, large parts of the workforce are not on the payroll. Instead it is an expense item invoiced by a supplier consultant. How do you ensure a shared value system, alignment to your vision and a common culture in this situation? Companies usually let their procurement or ﬁnance or operations departments manage contract labor. This is a missed opportunity from compliance and organizational alignment perspectives. It is not uncommon to see Glassdoor postings about a company which show the wide contrast between the treatment meted out to contract versus full-time employees. This is an opportunity for HR leaders to create better value for the company by deﬁning a strategy to manage contract workforce and taking responsibility for all FTE who work in the company irrespective of how they are paid. This can include establishing norms around number of hours worked, skills and behavioral training, provision of beneﬁts from the vendors, compensating adequately to allow a living wage, recognizing work and treating all FTE with the same respect afforded to employees are some possible action items. It is amazing that most companies do not invest in training and recognizing their contract workers even though they have an equal impact as a permanent employee.
These three signiﬁcant changes occurring in the workplace world are having and will continue to have an even bigger impact to the way culture is built and sustained. These changes are happening across the globe, are much more pronounced in the West and are showing up in Asia, too. Like the United States, India faces a unique factor among large countries globally. Its demographic dividend will lead to 69% of the population in the working-age category by 2040, highest amongst all large countries and, more importantly, on an increasing trend rather than declining rate as in Europe, China and Japan. In addition, the average age in India is falling. It is currently 29 compared to 38 in the United States.
The United States and India both will have a majority of their population and an increasing number in the workforce. Delayed retirement and the newer generations will lead to far greater complexity in the workplace than is seen currently.
HR leaders in India have begun to see the same issues their U.S. counterparts have been dealing with, because of lower mortality rates, delayed retirement and Millennials entering the workplace at a fast pace. Start-ups have tried escaping by having only a single generation in their workplace, but as the Indian businesses grow, they will need to adopt similar strategies. By making strategic choices, learning from their U.S. counterparts and an informed approach to the uniqueness (younger workforce and cultural differences), Indian HR leaders can create a tremendous positive impact on FTE engagement and culture. The workplace of 2025 will comprise multiple generations, remote workers and a mix of permanent and contract workers. HR has an opportunity to take responsibility for all of them to create a meaningful impact to the workplace culture.
Rajiv Burman heads human resources for Kronos in APAC and has more than 25 years of experience in HR across North America, Asia, China and Australia with a focus on change management and organizational design.