Engaging 5 Generations in the Future Workplace — Part 1

by Marcus Varner
, 10 min read
Engaging 5 Generations in the Future Workplace — Part 1

In a recent webinar, Jeanne Meister, founding partner at Future Workplace, Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, and Steven ZoBell, chief product and technology officer at Workfront, sat down to discuss how businesses can prepare for the evolution of people, process, and technology.

What follows is the first in a three-part recap of the webinar. See part two here and part three here. If you want to watch the entire webinar on demand, click here.


Jeanne Meister: I’m going to start with a poll. We’re talking about engaging five generations in the workplace, so I'd like to know from each of you which generation were you born in. These are marker years and the years that actually I have used and the U.S. Census Data has used. 

So, are you a Traditionalist, born before 1946; a Boomer between ’46 and ’63; an Xer between ’64 and ’81; and a Millennial, born between ’82 and ’93. So take a moment and we’ll show the poll results in a moment.


See our SlideShare "7 Ways Generations Clash in The Workplace" for some interesting statistics about how different generations work together.


Also to my panel, Alan, Steve, and Mark; what do we think? Where are most of our participants, where we have I believe close to 900-plus attendees; what generation do we think they’ll be in?

Mark: Since you have such pull with the cool crowd, I’m going Gen Zed at the bottom. I think there are some young folks out there hearing what you have to say.

Jeanne Meister: Okay, great.

Steve ZoBell: Not that I disagree with that; I was going to go Millennial. But I’ll bet Alan’s right.

Alan Lepofsky: No, let’s see; I’ll go Xers. I’ll say gen X. I put myself in that category.

Jeanne Meister: You’ll say Gen X, okay. So let’s take a look and see. Alright, almost 50 percent of all of you are Xers. 

But what we’re going to talk about today is how it’s not necessarily the year you were born in, but it’s more about your mindset; your willingness to in a sense reinvent yourself. Adapt and build new skill sets so that you are continuously employable. 

That just gives us a sense of who everybody is.

So this is what I’m going to be focusing on; these three questions.

If we have five generations in the workplace, and this is actually the first year that Gen Z is entering the workplace; so that’s the fifth generation. What are companies doing about this? How are they engaging this multiple generation workforce?

The second is what I’ve been writing a lot about on Forbes, most recently I have "The Future of Work: The Intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Human Resources." What’s the impact of automation and AI for each of us and in our roles and disciplines in the organization?

And then finally, some of my thoughts. Having written a couple of books on the future of work, how is work going to be evolving and what do we need to be prepared for?

According to the Census Bureau, this is what it looks like in 2025. So 2025, Millennials and Gen Z will be 61 percent of the workforce.

But notice there’s still 39 percent that are Xers and Boomers. So for those of you 47 percent that are Xers, let’s not just focus on one generation. I know that I’ve been really interested in the whole view of as our life expectancy extends, what does that mean for each of us?

So, an interesting book that you could get your hands on is something called The 100-Year Life. It looks at the possibility that we’re going to be looking at a 60-year career.

So with these multiple generations in the workforce, people are living longer and staying in the workforce longer. In fact, actually, their prediction is that half of babies born as of 2000, so those are mostly Gen Zs, will reach 100; so half.

So what can we be prepared for? I think one thing, we’re going to be transitioning between careers and learning and earning are going to be really tied together. So we’re going to have an increased focus on building new skill sets in this 60-year career that we’re looking at. 

I’m just going to go through some case studies, if you will, that are in the new book, The Future Workplace Experience, to give you a sense of how companies are dealing with multiple generations.

The first is many more companies have employee affinity groups, but here’s the difference. In the first book I wrote, The 2020 Workplace, and the current book, The Future Workplace.

Back five years ago when a company like Bank of America, which has an employee affinity group called I-Gen, when they created an employee affinity group focused on multiple generations, it was more of a meet-up with some training on how to anticipate the varying perceptions of the generations in the workplace.

Fast forward five years, and the employee affinity group that’s in the book is IBM’s, and it’s called Millennial Core.

But here’s the really interesting thing. It’s not just for Millennials; in fact they say Millennials and those that have a Millennial mindset, and that MIBB stands for Millennial in a Boomer Body.

And I guess I’m here to tell you that’s me. I answered our generation quiz with I’m a Boomer but really I think a Millennial at heart.

The other big change with these employee affinity groups is that they’re not just about what to anticipate between the generations. They’re really putting multiple generations to work. They’re looking at these individuals as subject matter experts.

So at IBM, this Millennial corp advised IBM leaders on apps to create for the Apple/IBM partnership and they had a big role in looking at the transition to a real-time Agile performance management, including actually naming the app, which is called ACE, which stands for Appreciation Coaching and Evaluation.

These groups are now becoming R&D groups for organizations.

The next big thing is global learning experiences. The example that’s touted in the book is Dow Chemical. They have something called Leadership in Action, which is a combination of global citizenship and leadership development.

This is targeted not just to Millennials but to anyone that’s a high performing leader to be involved in a real project for six months virtually, and one month in-country, targeting those countries around the world where Dow is going to be growing in the next decade.

So they’ve already engaged with companies in countries in Ethiopia and Indonesia. In a sense, this really combines a more purposeful experience with ways to increase engagement of employees and provide a much more innovative leadership development program.

And then finally, new benefits. Yes there are benefits targeted to Millennials and I think the biggest one is the student loan repayment.

If you’re a Millennial and have an outstanding student loan, there are companies like Staples and Fidelity and PWC that will actually pay your loan provider up to $1,500 a year for five years as a way to attract and retain top Millennial talent.

But the other news on new benefits is financial wellness. How do we look at all the generations in the workplace and develop financial literacy skills?

The big takeaway here is it’s not about age; it’s about mindset and companies are looking at, holistically, what does it take to attract and develop the top talent that they want, regardless of generations. And they’re coming up with very innovative programs to do that.

Next is automation and artificial intelligence. This is a really exciting area, and if you want to learn more about it I have a blog on Forbes called "The Future of Work: The Intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Human Resources."

The prediction is quite an interesting one; that within the next 10 years, if not sooner, regardless of your occupation, regardless of your function in your company, you most likely will work alongside artificial intelligence.

And actually, that’s true for me. I now have a virtual digital assistant called Amy. Amy is copied on all the calls that I’ve set up, like the ones planning this webinar, and she is a scheduling bot.

Regardless of where you work in your organization—IT, HR, organizational effectiveness—the real issue is how can you look at the entire employee lifecycle from recruiting, through onboarding, development, career advisory, and looking at your employer brand and look at how will AI impact?

I’m going to take just a few of these. On the bottom of this are the logos of companies that have an artificial intelligence bot to assist.

The first one is really exciting; it’s called MYA, short for My Assistant.

It’s a recruiting bot that automates—that MYA says—about 75 percent of the recruiting process; from going back and forth with candidates’ questions as they fill out an application on your website, verifying their qualifications, answering any of their questions they have about policy and benefits, and importantly delivering an update to the candidate on where they stand in the recruiting process.

This last benefit is huge, because often there’s a black hole of recruiting where you apply for and you never hear.

Research has said that 58 percent of candidates that have a less than favorable candidate experience, that impacts the likelihood that they will buy a product or service from your company. So that’s impacting your employer brand.

The big areas in this employee lifecycle that are being impacted by artificial intelligence are functions as a recruiting coordinator, the HR service center, so things that can quickly utilize the capabilities of natural language processing and automation.

The big question that people have is: "Okay, if a bot really does take over a percentage of time spent on the recruiting function, what impact does this have with someone holding that position? What are you going to do with your extra time?"

I did an interview with the head of talent acquisition from LinkedIn, and the new role is how can talent acquisition professionals develop more analytical skills on market intelligence and looking at the size and location of talent pools, and, importantly, uniquely human skills.

How can they develop more storytelling and share with a candidate what makes the company unique as a place to work.

The call to action is really as AI augments various roles, looking at roles in the employee lifecycle, then individuals holding some of those roles are going to have to develop more functional skills and really skills that are more uniquely human.

As we go along this trajectory, the next one is Tella, which is another bot which helps onboard an employee during the first 100 days.

The first one is actually Jill Watson, so that’s IBM’s Watson, and that’s being used a lot in MOOCs (massive open online courses) as a learning assistant to answer all those questions that a candidate would have.

Finally, how will work look differently in the next five years?

First, I think the composition of the workforce will be different. In addition to just full-time employees and part-time employees and contract workers, we may see less full-time workers as gig-economy workers increase.

Estimates are that gig-economy workers in the knowledge worker segment are anywhere from 15 to 20 percent and growing for individuals who hold in-demand skills that really want to call the shots as to who they work for, what they work on, and where they work.

So rather than being a contract worker when you’re in between two full-time jobs, many individuals are looking at this as a career, as part of their portfolio.

Remote workers are another category; those that work at least two to three days a week outside of the company office, and this segment is also growing and has really come under a lot of tension under the last three months as companies are starting to reverse this.

But other employees still look at this as a key benefit.

And then finally, robots and bots; Amazon has already gone on record as saying this past Christmas season they had 45,000 robots working across 20 customer fulfillment centers. That was about a 50 percent increase over 2015.

Finally, something that’s really getting a lot of interest in the marketplace, which is how will the jobs evolve over the next five years, and what are the skills that are becoming increasingly important?

One of them, I believe, that is going to become increasingly important is coding. This is not just for an IT job; this is an interesting chart. If you expand it, you’ll be able to see that it’s a chart from research done by The Economist, which looks at levels of workers.

Coding and data science is now part of almost every job.

This is putting pressure on our K through12 system where Google just did a survey; three out of four middle and high schools do not teach coding because it’s not part of the AP testing, but parents are requesting it.

So I believe coding is going to become a permanent part of the K through 12 curriculum.

With that, before I pass it along to my colleague on the panel, I just want to sum it up by saying the future of work is going to focus us all on learning more skills.

And I think that Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, has said it best: "how can we build a culture of learn-it-alls as opposed to and know-it-alls."


To watch the entire "Engaging 5 Generations in the Future Workplace" webinar on demand, click here.

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