Retaining Generation Y (Gen Y) employees is an increasingly big human resource (HR) challenge due to these workers' short attention span, but organizations that run internal cloud-based platforms can engage and sustain their interest and retain young talent longer.
Aaron Au, co-founder and CTO of cloud-based HR software maker SuccessFactors, described this short attention span as a "psychological problem" that is typical of Gen Y employees because these workers, since young, have been exposed to a wide array of rapidly-developing technologies. SuccessFactors was acquired by SAP in December last year.
These technologies, which range from television to computer games and social media, have over-stimulated Gen Y brains at a young age and as a result, these young workers are unable to keep focused for a long time on anything in their lives, Au explained.
This problem would eventually spill over into their attitudes toward future jobs as Gen Y employees would not be able to sustain their focus, interests and passions on their jobs as long as other workers previously were able to, he said.
He noted that staff turnover rates have increased over the years, with employees today changing jobs faster compared to their peers two decades ago. Au added that he "wouldn't be surprised" if Gen Y employees changed jobs "every six months".
Increasing salaries would not improve staff retention rates because "money is not everything", Au said, noting that this did not address the crux of the problem.
It would not be possible to make these employees stay in their jobs for a bigger paycheck when they already have low attention spans, and are unable to sustain their interest within a company to begin with, he added.
Cloud-based platform can salvage situation
Au suggested that an internal cloud-based platform can be used to engage their attention and resolve high turnover rates among Gen Y employees.
He explained that cloud-based intranets would enable employees to better engage and communicate with their managers, help them explore their passions, as well as establish a better understanding of their company and how their job scope contributes to overall business growth. For instance, there can be discussion forums on professional topics around certain interest groups to foster interaction within employees, he said.
Ultimately, the cloud-based intranet must address issues which result from short attention span, such as an employee's difficulty in understanding his role within the organization and the inability to connect with his co-workers, because these are factors that drive them away, he surmised.
The platform, however, should not operate in the same way as social media, Au maintained, noting that social media is associated with "broadcasting one's life" but communication on the cloud-based platform is two-way.
In this environment, employees can get feedback from their managers, provide and share information as well as collaborate with others, he remarked.
Technical, cultural, emotional challenges
That said, Au noted that there are challenges in developing the right platform for every organization.
For one, this platform cannot be built on the traditional cloud model because the technology will be outdated by the time it is constructed, he said. He noted that it would not be easy to build a software architecture where the components can be refreshed.
The cloud-based intranet needs to be agile and sensitive to rapid changes within the industry, where its systems can continue to function even while a technology refresh is being implemented, he advised. Au likened it to "changing a two-bedroom home to a five-bedroom [instead of] changing the building blocks that constructed the room".
Every organization also has a different culture, he said. As such, vendors engaged to build these cloud-based platforms must understand the client's unique organizational culture and design a platform that addresses specific needs of that organization, he added.
Additionally, humans and their emotions are "complicated" and IT systems may not be able to gauge where employees' passions and interests lie, he said, but noted that Amazon, for instance, has evolved to a stage where it can now recommend products based on its customers' purchase history".
"With developments like that, the human problem in cloud-based platforms may soon be resolved," he added.