The changing face of workforce

Today’s workforce is no longer homogenous like that of past decades. Organizations face a workforce that is increasingly multigenerational and made up of contingent workers. In this article, Joanne Abbott analyses the dynamics of an evolving workforce, its impact on employee engagement, and how organizations will need to develop a responsive and inclusive talent management strategy to deal with these changes.

By Joanne Abbott 
Organizations around the world continue to struggle to attract and retain the right employees. The war for talent is perennial even when rising unemployment rates depict a story of job supply lagging demand. 
Employee engagement continues to challenge even the most sophisticated of human resource (HR) functions. All too often, organizations have misdiagnosed the engagement crisis and blamed larger forces such as demographic changes, labor quotas and the macroeconomic environment for their woes. 
The reality is that the workforce today is no longer homogenous like that of past decades. The mix and composition of today’s workforce is fast-changing, along with evolving expectations and aspirations. Research has established that organizations need a diverse workforce for innovation to flourish for business success. The crux lies in how organizations can make the new workforce dynamics work to their advantage.
Multigenerational and contingent
Organizations firstly need to acknowledge that the workforce is increasingly multigenerational. In many organizations, four generations are working side-by-side.
Today’s workforce is easily made up of the Generation Z, arguably the first generation of true digital natives who have just entered the workforce; the Millennials, who are digitally savvy but did not grow up with technology in their formative years; the Generation X, who were born when large numbers of women started joining the workforce; and the Baby Boomers, who grew up in the competitive post-war environment where seats at schools and jobs were scarce. 
Further, in many developed markets where the population is ageing, it has become a necessity to retain the silver population who are of the Baby Boomers generation. 
The inherent attributes of the different generations clearly have a bearing on employee engagement strategy and tactics. In EY’s series of studies on generational issues at the workplace, the majority of managers cited different work expectations among generations as a key challenge. For example, millennials place a much higher priority on flexibility at the workplace. In one such report, 75% of millennials said that they wanted the ability to work flexibility and still be on track for promotion
The workforce mix is not just becoming multigenerational, but also increasingly made up of contingent workers.
The freelancing or “gig” economy, where employees offer their skills and services on a contractual basis, is on the rise. This trend has been catalyzed by various factors such as a desire for work-life harmony, the modularization of jobs into task-based assignments as a result of automation, or the need for highly niche skills that certain specialists possess. 
At the same time, hiring workers on a contractual basis allows organizations to mitigate risk and remain agile in an uncertain and volatile business environment. 
Contingent workers are not just temporary staff, and they are motivated differently from permanent staff. The rise of this segment of workers will require an entirely new operating model to manage their supply and demand, such as recruiting from talent repositories where workers are seeking non-full time employment, replacing fixed departments with flexible teams to build a stronger teaming culture, and creating an up-to-date workers database for the rapid deployment of workers based on business needs. 
Responsive and inclusive
These shifts in the workforce demands organizations to have an inclusive and responsive talent strategy so as to ride the upsides of change. 
Rushing to overhaul the entire organization is rarely the best answer. Rather, fundamentally, a mindset shift that embraces diversity and inclusion (D&I) across the organization – beginning from the top – should take place before structural changes are introduced. 
Organizations often focus solely on building a diverse workforce without investing equal – if not more –efforts in ensuring that leaders and peers lead and team with colleagues inclusively. Leading organizations who get diversity and inclusion right both in spirit and action often develop their HR policies, processes and systems with a D&I lens.
For example, from a recruitment perspective, hiring inclusively goes beyond simply masking profile indicators on CVs.  Hiring managers should be aware to remove any unconscious hiring bias and shift the hiring focus on skills. 
Organizations that have vast geographical presence may find additional challenges in ensuring that their D&I policies and processes are followed through consistently. 
For example, when a leading global financial institution recognized the need to actively measure and improve the consistency in its D&I approach across its key operations, it developed an innovative self-assessment framework to track the progress of its D&I activities across selected markets that they operated in. Following the self-assessment, it reviewed the submissions to develop a comprehensive action plan to drive and standardize D&I activities across the markets. 
As the understanding of the differences across the workforce – and the power of leveraging these differences inclusively – grows, organizations will need to harness the power of people analytics to quantify and introduce changes in the areas throughout an employee’s life cycle that can meet the employee’s needs and create the most impact. 
For example, some organizations have responded to Generation Z’s ambitious nature and adventurous spirit by providing overseas work opportunities or industry work attachments. There are also a growing number of organizations that leverage analytics using a range of data sources from HR and other parts of the organization, combined with data harvested from social networks, to predict the top talent that may be considering to leave the organization.
The complexities of managing a workforce in transition – or transformation – will only grow as technology and innovation continually reinvents the notion of work in future. However, what remains unchanged is that an organization’s people is almost always its greatest strategic asset, making the ability to harness it well – both at an individual and organizational level – an utmost strategic priority today.
The writer is Joanne Abbott, Partner, People Advisory Services, Ernst & Young Advisory Pte. Ltd.
Visit her LinkedIn profile here
The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.