Many workplaces today are in the unprecedented position of having five generations working together, side-by-side.
While the exact definition of each generation may vary slightly, any office or workplace today could include members from the traditionalists (born 1927-1945), baby boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), millennials/Generation Y (1981-1996) and Generation Z (those born in 1997 or later).
While most would agree that generalizations like generational buckets are helpful only to a point, multigenerational workforces challenge employers to meet a broad range of needs and expectations. Making the matter more complicated: Typical full-time and part-time positions are now being augmented with gig economy roles such as freelance, contract and temporary employment options.
When you pair this complex and diverse workforce with the growing competition to attract and retain top talent, it’s easy to see why culture and work environment have become a key focus for employers looking to gain a strategic advantage.
The price of a disengaged workforce
According to Deloitte University Press’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, “employee engagement is a headline issue throughout business and HR.” Fully 85 percent of survey respondents ranked engagement as a top priority, yet only 46 percent reported that they were prepared to address engagement challenges.
For all the attention being paid to the topic, employee engagement has remained fairly static, at around 30 percent since 2014, and has not experienced large year-over-year improvements in Gallup’s 15-year history of measuring and tracking the metric.
In fact, according to Gallup, almost 20 percent of U.S. workers are “actively disengaged” employees, those likely to undermine coworkers and sabotage projects. Perhaps worse, most U.S. workers—51 percent—continue to fall into the “not engaged” category. While these employees do not typically negatively affect business performance, they tend to do the minimum asked of them and are not likely to go the extra mile for clients or customers.
Overall, Gallup reports that disengagement costs the U.S. around $500 billion annually.
How technology can help
Clearly, disengagement is too big and costly a problem to ignore. Smart human capital management (HCM) technology can help organizations create compelling work environments that make employees feel valued and treated fairly so they will give that extra discretionary effort to the organization—regardless of their generation, employment status or position.
Here are three areas where good HCM technology strategy and implementation can make a real difference:
Recruiting is an area where technology and user experience play a critical role in getting your engagement efforts off on the right foot. A recent survey found that 20 percent of job seekers would give up on an online application if they couldn’t complete it on a mobile device. And although 70 percent of job seekers are interested in applying for a job via smartphone, only about a quarter of large companies surveyed have optimized their hiring process for mobile devices—a significant gap that all employers should look to close.
Improving the user experience and efficiency of your hiring process eases the demand on managers and ensures that good candidates don’t get lost in the process. In addition, the use of prescreening tools can help get to the short list of best-fit candidates so that hiring managers and recruiters spend their time efficiently. Alerts, notifications and automated workflows can also make the process easier and more efficient while keeping everyone involved on-task.
2. Performance management
Performance management drives engagement for the entire workforce.
Managers should provide employees with continuous feedback instead of the traditional approach of annual reviews or when discipline is necessary. When employees know how they’re doing—and how their ongoing activities align with corporate goals—they perform at a higher level and stay with an organization longer.
HCM technology provides managers with the tools to provide ongoing feedback on employee activities connected to goals and key performance indicators, and to promote ongoing performance development, manage compensation and stay on top of learning and development to advance skills. Providing all of this with an easy-to-use, mobile interface helps create a more engaged, motivated and productive workforce.
When employees have access to flexible scheduling tools to manage their working hours, companies see a significant impact on performance, engagement and retention. Today’s HCM solutions can help organizations involve employees in the decisions around when they work, through tools like shift swapping. These and other self-service tools increase flexibility for employees and relieve managers from the burden of frantically filling open shifts at the last minute. Findings from a recent Aptitude Research Partners study showed that organizations that offer shift-swapping capabilities, no matter what the industry, were 55 percent more likely to indicate they had higher than industry average levels of engagement and 53 percent more likely to indicate they had below average turnover for their industry.
Why tech requires new processes
When thinking about each of these areas where HCM technology can help improve the user experience and increase employee engagement, it’s critical to remember that even the best technology may fail to yield results if the processes behind it have been ignored. Process improvements go hand-in-hand with technology investments.
Organizations looking to implement new HCM systems should always consider why the current workflows are in place and how, if at all, they can be improved upon. They must also decide whether to leverage a unified platform inclusive of HR, workforce management and payroll or seek out best-of-breed solutions for each functional area. The former will provide a single source of truth that provides a well-rounded picture of people trends based on workforce data, while the latter may require deep specializations to maximize the value of any investment.
Leading companies work hard to deliver a superior customer experience to attract, engage, retain and cultivate customers and clients. Organizations must apply a similar lens to their workforces, looking for ways to make the employee experience easier, rewarding, more transparent and professionally fulfilling, regardless of their generation.
A version of this article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Copyright © 2017 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.