With the arrival of Gen Y and the Digital Employee the line between work and home is more blurred than ever. Rob Ashley and Andrew Madams discuss some of the implications of these new ways of working.

For a number of years, we have been flooded with research and articles suggesting that Generation Y (typically those born from the early 80’s to the late 90’s) work differently to those generations that had gone before them. We’ve been told that technology is contributing to this change and that as leaders we need to look at how we manage this Generation. That is, in order to get the best out of Generation Y, we have to consider what work/life balance really means for them.

Whilst this is true, technology and its impact on the workforce has been a concern for each and every generation that has gone before Generation Y. The fact of the matter is, change in how we work is not restricted to a specific ‘generation’. It is happening to the entire workforce, and always has. What has changed is how we respond to these technological trends.

Move towards give/take

Technology has been a key contributor to the rate of workplace change in the last 20 years. More recently, advancement in personal technology and mobile devices has made us all more mobile than ever. Generation Y are the first employees to work exclusively in a setting with email instead of fax, social media instead of printed media, and more importantly – where mobile is king. A mobile workforce is not just something Gen Y’s want, they demand it. And technology has enabled this. No object has ever blurred the line more than the smartphone. These devices are no longer just phones with annoying ringtones, they are a 24/7 office for the employee, a portal to a world of news, information, and a community of peers, mentors and consumers.

The implication of this ‘mobile world’ however is that the line between work and home has been further blurred. No longer is work/life balance the sought after Holy Grail for employees, it’s about give/take. How we work is no longer defined by whether we are in the office (work) or outside it (life). It is about providing employees options in how they work (give), in order to get the best out of your people (take). It means looking at work/life balance from a new perspective. Instead of simply providing benefits such as working from home, mental health days, and work phones and tablets, organisations need to consider how to leverage their people’s desire for flexibility to increase performance. It’s about getting down to what individual employees really want in terms of how they work, and then enabling them to increase their productivity. This link between enablement and performance is critical, now more than ever.

Of course, we are not suggesting you simply pander to the needs of your employees. There has to be a business case that impacts on performance. For instance, global research discovered that 80 per cent of HR Directors struggle to find graduates with the necessary emotional and social skills, while 50 per cent of graduates have considered leaving their job because they don’t "fit in". Here, give/take balance can help organisations provide a flexible learning environment (give) in order to develop emotional and social skills in their graduates (take).

Whilst give/take balance is applicable for all generations, Generation Y is the workforce of the future, and what they expect and demand is a more mobile, flexible working arrangement. By being aware of this and embracing its challenges, leaders can set up a workforce that is more motivated, productive and sustainable in the future.

So what can you do to provide the right balance of give/take? You need to ask yourself:

  1. Are you aware of the different ways your employees prefer to approach their work and how this significantly impacts productivity and performance?
  2. Are your leaders equipped with the right skills and leadership styles to manage Gen Y and other generations? Do they recognise that results and high performance can be achieved in new ways?
  3. Is your tech savvy Gen Y workforce combining their technical abilities with social/soft skills we know are critical for teamwork, integration and overall success?

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About the contributor

Matt Chaplin is a Senior Client Director for Korn Ferry Advisory, Australia. He helps organisations attract, select, develop and retain the right talent to deliver on their strategy. He is an expert in designing and implementing talent assessment programs.

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