Chau Woeste and Christina Kwon discuss how businesses manage and engage a multi-generational workforce following an acquisition to drive deal value.
It’s very possible you’ve got five different generations working in your organisation. From the Traditionalists to Baby Boomers, through Gen X and Millennials, to Gen Z.
They’re all defined by their experiences growing up, with each bringing a different dynamic. The Traditionalists are often characterised as being loyal and hardworking, valuing respect and conformity. The Baby Boomers, who are early adaptors of Information Technology (IT), are considered to be workaholics, relish long work weeks and define themselves by their professional accomplishments. Gen X are your digital immigrants – the first generation to be born and raised in a world of computer and mobile technologies – embrace change and favour work-life balance in an organisation. While Millennials and Gen Z, your digital natives, are the most digitally competent of any generation and are heavily reliant on different types of technologies and modes of communication both at work and in their social life.
How do you effectively engage a workforce that encompasses all these generations, all with different priorities, preferences, attitudes and expectations?
Sounds hard enough at the best of times, let alone in a deal scenario where you’re managing people uncertain about their future, and who may already be considering other options.
Where should you focus?
The focus is usually on Millennials. Often painted as the problem children of an organisation, Millennials make up a large chunk of your workforce and will be your future leaders. They may want the same as everyone else, but they expect it sooner and they’ll look elsewhere if they can’t get it from you. But does that mean you should focus on them above anyone else?
Baby Boomers and Gen X are more likely to favour certainty over risk – there is more chance they have dependants they need to support – which means they may be less inclined to leave during a deal (unless offered an attractive severance package). But, while they may stay with you, they may not be engaged or as productive as they could be.
Are we really so different?
The fact is, drawing hard lines between the generations can be a bit crude. It fails to take into account things like personality differences and stage in life, for example. And getting too bogged down with generational differences could result in you missing what really matters.
Many other factors influence engagement and employee satisfaction outside the generational group of an employee, especially with COVID-19 and digital transformation impacting how and where we work.
Most importantly, it’s clear all generations are inseparable from technology, with future generations only becoming even more integrated and connected as newer technologies are introduced. What is increasingly apparent is the digital experience disconnect between our personal and professional lives. For example when we think about online shopping, we often will be subject to personalised e-commerce advertising, tailored timely digital communications (push messages, text messages, email), the opportunity for 24/7 support via chat bots and the ease of purchasing by a few clicks on website or mobile app, followed up with a succinct delivery schedule down to the hour. When you compare that to the digital experience at work it is very different. Granted our lives inside and outside of work are different, but should our digital experience have similarities?
Start by looking at the similarities
We’d reposition our opening question. Instead of asking, how can I engage a multi-generational workforce? Ask, how do I engage my people regardless of their generational cohort?
Despite the generational differences, there are many similarities. So, when you’re planning your approach to the human side of the deal, focus on the fundamental needs of your employees that don’t change:
- Connection and inclusion: how do you keep everyone connected and ensure they feel included?
- Certainty and clarity: what does the deal mean for the people involved?
- Sense of purpose: how can you help the acquired population of employees see there’s a place for them?
- Meaningful work and professional growth: what new opportunities will your people get as a result of the deal?
- Care and trust: how can you show your people that you care for their welfare and trust them?
A lot of this comes down to how you communicate and engage your new employees and how you present your employer brand. While face-to-face meetings and email can be suitable in certain situations, traditional means of engagement can be quite archaic and ineffective especially when engaging a large globally dispersed workforce. When you have digital natives who want information at their fingertips and the ability to access it anywhere, anytime, how will you keep them engaged? It has to be complemented by a digital and social solution that can reach as many employees as possible, wherever they are – the office, on-site, at home or commuting.
Prioritise what matters: your people
The multi-generational workforce is a hot topic, it always has been. Understanding these generational differences can certainly help you improve employee engagement. But, when people are going through the change that comes with a merger or acquisition, it’s key to make communications as widely accessible as possible so that everyone is included and on the same page. Focus on your people, keep them engaged and maximise the value from your deal.
We would love to hear from you about your challenges and successes on culture change following an acquisition. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of the points raised or how we can support your integration.