Singapore's workforce has become increasingly diverse in the last decade. The current workforce consists of four distinct and diverse generations — Builders (born before 1945), Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1964), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979) and Generation Y (born between 1980 and 1993). With an ageing population, more generations of people are now working together than ever before.

A recent study by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) found that Generation X and Generation Y workers together make up two-thirds of the Singapore workforce, with the remaining 40 per cent of the labour force aged above 45 years.

This has resulted in a multi-generational workforce with employee attitudes and preferences that are vastly different, and will continue to change significantly over the course of time.

An organisation that is not equipped to manage these changes will very likely find dysfunctional team dynamics developing, causing misunderstandings, lower morale and productivity. This will consequently result in higher dissatisfaction and staff turnover.

Different strokes

To address this challenge, companies will need to implement effective human capital management solutions that can provide value to every person in the organisation regardless of their generation.

As every generation has different career needs and characteristics, a one-size-fits-all approach will no longer apply. Instead, implementing specific strategies for each generation will be more effective in addressing the needs of the workforce.

It is critical to start a dialogue within the organisation about generational differences and ensure that management is constantly educated about dealing with an intergenerational workforce.

When managers understand how each group interacts and operates, they can then develop strategies that are specific to each generation and effectively leverage the respective characteristics to attain the best results for business.

For example, Baby Boomers have a wealth of experience, have had time to build deep customer relationships, and present significant management and leadership capability.

They are also very steady in their working styles and tend to remain on the same course despite external changes or pressures.

Generation Y, on the other hand, are new to the workforce and are stereotypically aggressive, energetic and enthusiastic.

While the leadership qualities and single-mindedness of Baby Boomers are characteristics that can help a company achieve its business objectives, Generation Y’s enthusiasm and ability to react quickly can be complementary to these attributes.

The reality is that there are many changes in today’s external environment, and agility, flexibility and responsiveness — qualities that Generation Y embody — can enable a business to stay on top of these changes and adapt accordingly.

A multi-generational workforce has also resulted in trends like bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and social computing in the workplace, many of which are mainly driven by IT-savvy Generation Y.

As a growing cohort of Generation Y job seekers join the workforce, we can expect these trends to grow further. Research by IDC shows that by 2012, 40 per cent of workers in the Asia-Pacific are expected to be mobile, hence companies will have no alternative but to embrace this shift in employee behaviour while adopting tools that can ensure business-critical data remains secure.

Increased mobility and the use of social media allow employees to work remotely, and can help teams collaborate more efficiently, in turn raising productivity and enhancing operational efficiency.

A point of contention with some organisations due to privacy and privilege concerns, these trends can nonetheless benefit organisations from an innovation and knowledge transfer standpoint.

However, equally important is the regulation of these interactions. Management groups need to educate employees on the appropriate use of mobile devices and social media at work as well as ensure that there are policies in place that clearly inform the workforce of what is acceptable professional behaviour.

The diversity of today’s workforce may present several challenges for human resource practitioners, but with the right strategies, policies and tools in place, organisations can see greater innovation and improved productivity.

These are the result of the variety of skill sets and characteristics of the different generational groups, and ultimately lead to better talent retention and overall business success.