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Empowering a multigenerational workforce

What does it take to keep employees of different generations happy for a cohesive work environment? Priya Sunil finds out in conversations with HR leaders from AXA Affin General Insurance, Mah Sing Group and ROSEN Group.

Today’s workforce sees Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and, most recently, Generation Z co-existing in one workplace. Without a doubt, this has become one of the most disruptive trends in the workforce, and organisations now have to effectively cater to the contrasting priorities, demands and goals of each group to create a conducive workplace for all.

In fact, as Peter Law, Head, People Development & Recognition, Mah Sing Group, puts it, each generation brings to the workplace a distinct set of values, attitudes and behaviours, and each have their own expectations, priorities and work styles. “However, learning how to effectively leverage on the diverse experiences and talents each generation brings into the workplace creates a competitive edge for the organisation,” he says.

Thus, in this feature, we take a look at how leaders at AXA Affin General Insurance, Mah Sing Group, and ROSEN Group are building a cohesive environment for both the older and the newer generations in the workforce.

Note: For the context of this article, Baby Boomers comprise those born between 1946 to 1964, Generation X is made up of staff born between 1965 to 1981, while Millennials were born between 1982 and 1994. Last, Generation Z comprises those born from 1995 onwards.

Mah Sing Group: Bridging communication gaps between generations

Over at property and lifestyle developer, Mah Sing Group, 90% of its existing workforce is dominated by a mix of Millennials (55%) and Generation X (35%). The remaining 10% is made up of Baby Boomers and Generation Z, equally.

As Peter Law, Head, People Development & Recognition, Mah Sing Group, says, learning how to effectively leverage on the diverse experiences and talents each generation brings gives the organisation a competitive edge.

How then, does the organisation’s HR team tackle this?

For one, Law shares: “The launch of ‘New’ Mah Sing in 2016 underlies the commitment of the group to kick-start the transformation journey in reinventing new ways of working to enhance the lives of our people.

“We want to build a culture of excellence in attracting, recruiting and retaining best-fit-talent and one of the strategies is to address the key needs of the multigenerational workforce.” In doing so, the team has implemented a slew of initiatives that shift old mindsets to new ones.

First, there is a shift from workplace rigidity to workplace flexibility, whereby the team aims to shape a culture of employee empowerment by introducing flexible working hours and emphasising performance over presence.

According to Law, this caters to the Millennials and Generation Z, who make up 60% of the emerging talent pools. Second, comes the shift from retrospective to real-time performance feedback.

Employees are empowered to take ownership of their careers through initiating meaningful real-time career conversations with their line managers, and vice-versa.
“This is effective in bridging the communication gap between generations, and more importantly, the hierarchical gaps which were very prominent in Mah Sing Group prior to the transformation.”

Third, the company has ditched the inside-out, or top-down approach to decision making in favour of an outside-in approach. What this means is that greater value is now placed on employees’ feedback, such as through its employee engagement survey. From this, the company has undertaken a number of policy enhancements, including annual leave, dental benefits, maternity leave, and more.

In line with the implementation of such changes, the company has achieved “great milestones” and consistent recognition in the industry, for instance, by winning awards, which have been used to affirm the company’s progress and ROI. Further, Law shares that Mah Sing has also seen more quality CVs coming in since, with a 30% year-on-year increase in applicants since 2017.

While introducing these initiatives, the biggest challenge faced by Law’s team has been integrating them into the organisational culture in the midst of transformation, and having to face some sceptical employees. However, he believes with the top leadership’s support, a new norm will be formed “slowly, but surely”, through consistent reinforcement of these new initiatives.

“What’s more important than catering to multi-generational needs is to first make sure that we have hired the best-fit talent for the organisation. Then, make sure that when catering to their needs, the initiatives should strategically align to the organisation’s vision, mission and core values, and eventually, the culture.”

To conclude, Law shares his view on avoiding stereotypes and keeping an open mind towards each generation. He says: “Despite research proving that each generation is distinctly unique in general, we have to move beyond stereotypes and recognise that innovation comes in all shapes, sizes and ages.“Besides valuing the differences, we should also value the commonalities among generations.”

AXA Affin GI: Driving high employee engagement with compressed workweeks 

A compressed working schedule arrangement (CWSA), FWAs, increased parental allocation, and a diverse and inclusive environment – these are some of the key initiatives AXA Affin General Insurance has implemented.

The general insurance company employs a workforce comprising largely of Millennials (53%), while Gen X take up 40%; 6% of its workforce is made up of Baby Boomers, while Gen Z make up the smallest group (1%). Thus, recognising the generational differences and needs, the company turned to customising and innovating its policies to help its employees achieve work-life integration, says Syukri Sudari, Chief People Officer at AXA Affin General Insurance.

First, the CWSA (also known as alternative Fridays) gives employees the option to take two Mondays or Fridays off work each month, by working an extra 45 minutes for nine consecutive days.

Second, under the FWA scheme, employees can choose from staggered working hours, flexible lunch hours, an Employee Social Responsibility Leave (for volunteering causes), and diversified leave for celebrations, examinations, compassionate reasons, and more.

Third, to cater to varied parental needs, parents with newborns are offered a four-month maternity leave scheme, as well as one month of paternity leave. On top of all that, the company makes it a point to organise various engagement activities around diversity, family values, health and wellness, such as International Women’s Day, Corporate Responsibility Week, and Family Day.

Given that different generations may be receptive to different forms of communications, Syukri says: “We believe in reaching out to our multigenerational workforce through their preferred channels – hence, we have multiple communication platforms. Openness is key in the company.

“We have open working spaces and fun meeting rooms to encourage discussions, an open door concept with our C-Suite, Workplace (internal social platform), as well as a relaxing common area, or better known as the chill out area, for our people to relax and mingle.”

ROIs aside, according to Syukri, the biggest challenge is in being creative in the HR practices to create more value for each generation’s employees.

The team has also faced situations where a particular initiative received different reactions. For example, he explains, when the CWSA was first rolled out, it was very well-received by the Millennials, but was not as popular among Gen X and the Baby Boomers, who preferred shorter working hours each day. To address this, the team introduced staggered working hours for the segments who preferred to work shorter working hours in a day.

Given the above, he believes listening to the people is key to promoting a balance between each generation’s needs and wants.

When people know that we are genuine in helping them, they will be more open to speaking up, and in return, we will be able to find more creative ways to implement initiatives that really matter to them.
Further, on ensuring not too much strain on the HR budget in doing so, he adds: “Implementing a new initiative may not necessarily have to involve extra costs. Let’s take our CWSA as an example. It was an agile approach to allow our people to achieve greater work-life integration and drive higher productivity without incurring an additional HR budget.

Based on our survey among our people managers, teamwork and accountability among our people have only increased.”

Despite these initial challenges, the ROI gained from these initiatives has proven worthwhile. At AXA Affin, this ROI is measured and tracked both quantitatively and qualitatively, providing employees with the opportunity to give their feedback either anonymously or in full transparency.

One of the ways this is done is through the tri-monthly Global Pulse Survey, which measures key metrics such as the employee net promoter score and engagement rate to gather feedback on strategic alignment, values, and more. As Syukri says, the survey’s latest results have recorded a high engagement rate from employees, with positive and encouraging trends.

Additionally, there is Amber, an AI chatbot, which acts as the CEO’s virtual assistant, and seeks employees’ feedback throughout their journey with AXA.

“Since its launch in February 2019, Amber has reached out to more than 600 employees, with 81% of those who responded giving positive feedback.”

Concluding this interview, Syukri shares a piece of advice on the pitfalls to avoid when catering to the different the generations’ wants and needs: “Never make assumptions! It is always important to validate your hypothesis in the development of HR policies.“While we may accumulate better understanding of working with a multigenerational workforce over the years, it is important for us to validate our hypothesis and keep an open mind.”

ROSEN Group: Keeping the ROI high on staff engagement

ROSEN Group’s Asia Pacific arm consists of two generations – Generation X, and approximately 61% of Millennials spread across its offices in Malaysia, China and Australia.

To first clearly define each generation’s needs before the company could implement any initiatives, Lynn Ho, AP Human Resource Manager, ROSEN Group, says the process chain solution provider’s AP Regional HR team conducted a face-to-face survey with individual employees in 2017 to gauge an understanding of their expectations of leadership and direction; working relationship and environment; training and development; and compensation and benefits.

Based on the accumulative results, the engagement rate of Millennials was found to rank three out of five, as compared to four out of five from the management level.

In light of that, she says:

In order not to jeopardise our current company culture of transparency, feedback and trust, creating double standards to cater to two different generations, the strategies that our team has implemented are applied across multi-generations.
One such strategy is HR With U, created for all employees to experience “a whole new level of engagement”. Through this platform, employees are given the opportunity to voice their concerns, and at the same time, provides them a connection with bite-sized learning.

This encourages employee bonding in a fun and casual atmosphere, engaging them in activities such as a group Kahoot! game, awards presentations, and more.

Further, to encourage work-life balance, employees also have the option to work flexible hours, as well as work from home.

Ho also says the company has recently rolled out a career development journey for its employees to provide more sustainability in their career progression. This, in turn, will be an added advantage to the business growth.

In addition to this, ROSEN Group also has an open-concept layout, a pay-for-performance culture, a coaching culture, a yearly cultural journey workshop, and more.

In measuring ROI on these initiatives, the HR team currently measures staff engagement rates via a survey, as well as via online games, and an internal HR portal which showcases engagement analytics of employees.

According to Ho, the team has faced minimal challenges implementing these so far. In fact, it has put in place the communication method strategically and received full co-operation from the respective department managers.

She explains: “Through this, we’ve found that the method was executed seamlessly. As of now, we have not encountered many challenges as all initiatives accommodated to were implemented across multi-generations of the workforce.”

To conclude, what’s her take on managing different generations at the workplace? “In my humble opinion, all employees regardless of generation, whether Baby Boomers, Gen X, or Millennials, need to be instilled with the right company culture in order for them to have the right mindset and sense of belonging.”

Through these companies’ case studies, it is evident that much emphasis is placed on providing a flexible, engaging environment for each generation to work together cohesively.

That said, as Mah Sing Group’s Law aptly stresses: “It’s time to shift from managing to empowering across generations! We do not need to reinvent the wheel when dealing with a multigenerational workforce, because at the end of the day, it’s about leaders having meaningful conversations with their employees, regardless of generations, to make them feel engaged and valued.”

This feature first appeared in Human Resources magazine Malaysia, Q3 edition. Read the e-mag below!


Photos / provided [Pictured from L-R: Syukri Sudari, Lynn Ho, Peter Law]

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