How HR can deal with high-tech employees
It's fair to say HR departments have been more focused on dealing with redundancies than new hires in the last couple of years.
But as the economy begin to emerge from recession and businesses look to the recovery, the challenge of dealing with new employees will return. And this next generation of workers will be more demanding than any of their predecessors, especially in terms of technology.
Unprecedented levels of technical literacy, the rise of remote working and focus on sustainability mean younger workers will have very definite ideas on how they're expected to be treated by potential employers.
Projecting ahead to what businesses and HR departments will face in the Britain of 2020, insurance company Friends Provident expects to see the emergence of demanding "elite workers".
"By 2020, the balance of power between employees and employers will have shifted in favour of elite workers. This means employers will require more robust and rigorous HR strategies to shape the future success of the business," says Friends Provident human resources director Gillian Fox.
And it will be the job of HR departments to put the policies in place to attract these elite workers and retain them: "Only by fostering a culture that truly allows talented employees to prosper will employers be able to attract, recruit and, more importantly, retain this powerful band of employees," she said.
Consultant Accenture has been analysing the emergence of this new generation, also dubbed "Millennials" - and companies that fail to tune their corporate culture to meet the needs of these future workers, aged between 14 and 27, will suffer in the long run, it predicts.
But smart businesses will also see the emergence of this next intake as an opportunity to overhaul tired policies, practices and technology. "The demographic shift from the baby boom generation to the Millennials can be either frightening or exhilarating, maybe a bit of both, but it can't be ignored," says Gary Curtis, Accenture's chief technology strategist.
HR departments will be key to this change process and managing the integration of Millennials into company cultures built around staff in their 40s - Gen X-ers and the older baby boomers. "Companies and organisations that fail to embrace Millennial behaviour are at risk of failing to attract and retain new hires, while also seeing their competitive edge erode from lack of innovation in information technology."
Because while the new intake of workers will have different expectations when it comes to working hours, corporate hierarchies and company loyalty, the real flash-point for HR departments could come around the issue of IT. Unlike previous generations which may have had their first exposure to sophisticated hardware and software in the workplace, Millennials will have had access to the latest tech from a very young age...
This close relationship with tech creates expectations for quality user interfaces which older staff will not have had, warns Accenture. HR departments can expect recent graduates to not just be dissatisfied with under-par corporate IT but actively subvert it by bypassing corporate policy and installing and using external devices and applications that they prefer.
But failing to anticipate the tech needs of new hires will not just cause problems when the staff are in-situ but could also deter prospective employees from even considering a company in the first place. Using technology to choose between potential employers is especially distinct in emerging economies according to Accenture.
An example of how this desire to embrace new technology among young workers could impact company culture and tech procurement is illustrated by the emergence of touchscreen technology.
The release of the touchscreen Apple iPhone mobile, and more recently the Apple iPad could eventually usurp the mouse as the user interface of choice, according to analyst Gartner. But the transition to touchscreen technology will happen slowly and most businesses won't adopt the devices until a new intake of staff force them to, the analyst believes.
"As with many recent technology advances, touch adoption will be led by consumers and only gradually get accepted by the enterprise," says Leslie Fiering, research vice president at Gartner. "What will be different here is the expected widespread adoption of touch by education, so that an entire generation will graduate within the next 10 to 15 years for whom touch input is totally natural."
But while a generation of consumers will grow up with touchscreen, older employees may well still be wedded to the mouse which could cause friction when it comes to adopting new business technology. "The long tail of legacy enterprise applications that don't leverage touch, and the large contingent of mouse-trained employees, will make enterprises doubt the business case for adding touch," the analyst states.
While the issue of touchscreens may cause some problems for tech purchasing in the future, the process will be softened by another aspect of tech use among new workers - bringing consumer devices to work. The phenomenon of the consumerisation of IT is well-established but will be increasingly popular among millennials according to Gartner. "Employees are increasingly bringing their own PCs and technologies to work, whether sanctioned or not, and as with other consumer technologies, enterprises will eventually be forced to acknowledge the use of touch for mainstream knowledge users," the analyst states.
But while adoption of the latest tech will be an important way for companies to attract the best talent, IT will also be key when it comes to measuring their performance within the company. In its report on elite workers of the future, Friends Provident predicts that HR departments will need to introduce new systems to track the development of the new breed of worker. "Processes that enable employers to specifically calculate a worker's efficiency and value to their place of work will become commonplace," the Friends Provident report claims.
Ultimately, while it seems technology is shaping the abilities and expectations of the next generation of workers, advances in IT should also help provide companies with the tools and metrics to ensure that staff live up to their potential.