A lot of attention is paid to a new kind of workplace. At TomorrowToday we often talk about a changing workplace and a changing workforce from various different angles, be it in leadership, new management styles, mentorship programmes or even how office space is (and can) being used differently. If you have engaged with TomorrowToday for any length of time, you will be aware that our focus is all around the drivers of change that are shaping the ‘new world of work’. More and more, decision-makers inside organisations are paying increased attention to their workforce, both in terms of the demographic profiles they represent, and as individuals, because they are recognizing the need to do so.

There are legislative imperatives that are certainly influencing this change in behaviour (particularly in South Africa), as well as social and economic reasons. There are other explanations (some historic and complicated) too. For example, the impact that political policy and economic volatility, as well as globalization, has had on South Africa is significant in considering talent attraction. South Africa is not alone in this dilemma, but for the last 10 to 15 years there has been a considerable exodus of young, educated people in South Africa aspiring to live and work overseas, either permanently or for a significant amount of time. So too has the adoption of Outcomes Based Education (OBE) as the model on which South Africa’s school curriculum has been based since the late 1990’s influenced corporate South Africa’s challenges in attracting high-caliber, well educated talent.

In a nutshell, there is a skills deficit amongst Generation Y entering the workplace in South Africa at the moment, despite the emphasis placed on education in the new South Africa.  There is undoubtedly a glut of graduates, but to find good quality talent that will also fit the legislative needs of your company’s profile will increasingly become a challenge. One can therefore argue that there is increased competition for good talent across most industries in South Africa.  What an irony this is, considering that we are living in a world with more youth unemployment than ever before in social history.

But even if you are in the fortunate position to be able to attract the best of the best in terms of talent, your next challenge is going to be to figure out how to retain your Generation Y talent. This is a generation who has grown up in a world full of choice and with high expectations. The ‘instant gratification generation’ will want to learn in two years what it took you two decades to learn; and Generation Y thinks it would be foolish for you not to help them. One of the reasons for this is that they have no intention of staying in your organization and possibly even in your industry for longer than 5 years at most; and even if they do, they probably won’t stay in the same department.

Have you ever thought about how effective your organization is at building communities or creating internal networks? This is what will facilitate your organization’s ability to ‘retain’ talent in the new sense of the word. In other words, you cannot expect your Generation Y talent to stay in the same organization for 10 years consecutively, but what you can hope for is that when your talent does move, that they will stay in touch and want to return to your organization when they wish to move again from the place they left you for. It is said of Generation Y that they are not necessarily loyal to an organization (the system) but that they will be loyal to people within the organization. This is the primary reason for the need for personal relationships that will evoke personal loyalty to be built and maintained. Personal development and formal mentorship programmes are fundamental ways in which your organization can make people accountable for building personal and long-lasting relationships, ultimately ensuring that those internal communities or networks are being built, resulting in a resilient organization. One of the themes that is emerging from our changing workplace therefore is collaboration. This requires a mind shift in an increasingly competitive market.

What is interesting about the workplace today is the diversity of the workforce. For example, we have not had four generations working alongside one another before like we do currently. We have also never had a majority female number of graduates emerging from tertiary level education institutions across all disciplines, as we do now. (Even at Matriculation level there are more females graduating.) However, any given organization in the ‘new world of work’ probably has a relatively entrenched and homogenous internal culture, whose status quo is possibly historically influenced and is ‘older’, white and male. Generation Y is probably the most tolerant of diversity than any other generation, but this does not mean they have real empathy for other people. What is interesting about any apparently homogenous workplace is an increase in its underlying complexity. As people are being forced to ‘plug in to’ the same culture, they become emotionally attached to their difference, finding ways to create in-group bias towards a group they identify with, thus creating divisions within organizations. There is a general consensus that division stems from prejudice, but it is my belief that it is the opposite. I wonder how we can be emotionally attached to what we don’t know. It makes more sense that we are attached to what we know to be so that just ain’t so (to paraphrase a Mark Twain quote). We therefore ‘stick to those like us’ whether that is people in our department, people of the same generation or people with similar life circumstances inside organizations.

So, these divisions may be generational, gender, race, and departmental or hierarchical.  Generation Y will battle to adhere to this because they don’t always understand how hierarchies work. They understand respect as something that is earned rather than given. Generation Y understands the concept of collaboration because they grew up in a school system that supported it. The business imperative behind creating workplaces where collaboration born out of trusting relationships is that we cannot afford to work in silos any longer. Business does not come to us the way it used to. We therefore have to offer smoothly run turnkey operations as a basic requirement and this involves internal communication, which often goes amiss.  We have to be able to cross-sell one another to clients and we have to be able to share information and expertise. These are some of the reasons for why organizations are becoming more people-focused.

Generation Y is also said to be the generation that will demand work/life balance. This is not because of a sense of rebellion but more likely because they (as a generation) will never retire. But there are other factors involved. They are the generation whose working lives will be dominated by the following themes some of which I have unpacked above: transparency, immediacy, complexity, collaboration, efficient communication, effectiveness and globalization. Generation Y has entered the workplace in the worst recession the global economic market has known since the 1930’s. Their work life will therefore be coloured by recession, volatility and uncertainty in the economic market and extraordinary competition. Generation Y’s work life shall be influenced by the need for change in environmental policy, diversity in social value systems and very importantly urbanization. One of the reasons this generation will expect to be able to go and fetch their dry cleaning at two in the afternoon once they have worked hard all morning, is because cities are so busy now that we will have to stagger the times at which people fetch their dry cleaning. We have already seen extended shopping and banking hours, this will only increase as cities become more populated.

So there are many things to think about in terms of updating your workplace. Not only is it imperative to have internal personal wellness, personal development and growth programmes available to employees but on a very practical level it would be wise to consider what you can do for your talent. Having a crèche, a subsidized canteen, a gym available to everybody, a doctor on hand once a fortnight; and a deal with the local super market where they could deliver to your office are just some basic ideas that could transform your workplace in to the kind of environment that Generation Y would want to work. Consider that the number one reason why people leave their place of work is relationships. If you have a talent retention problem ask yourself these two questions:

  1. a) What kind of workplace have we created? Is it one in which all kinds of people can flourish?
  2. b) What kind of workforce do we have and what kind of workforce do we want to have?
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