global workforce

It’s Not a Small World, After All: Understanding the Needs of a Global Workforce

Generation X executives may struggle more with first-time management challenges than any generation before them. Baby Boomers have also wrestled with the needs of an intergenerational workforce, globalisation of the economy and the digital era. But understanding the needs of a global workforce have become increasingly complex. To recruit and retain a more diverse and more distributed workforce requires understanding and meeting a vaster range of employment preferences of current and potential employees. It can impact decisions from traditional benefits to office arrangements.

Why understanding the needs of a global workforce is more challenging than ever

Generation X, which was largely raised in the work hard, play hard environment of the 1980s, reacted with a stronger demand for the “work-life balance”. Unlike their parents, they did not prioritise access to professional and economic ascension at all costs. Rather, they emphasised working to live, more than living to work. They wanted employers who would respect time away from the office to raise children or pursue outside interests.

But the ability to curtail a day was largely a matter of cultural restraint, actively choosing to set expectations about working weekends and late nights. The parameters of that balance were based on business needs mostly met by local employees, customers, and supply chains. Companies who wanted top Gen X talent built into policy the limitations that appealed to a then newcomer Gen X employee base, and technological developments created some natural boundaries to work day demands.

It’s 9 a.m. somewhere. Today, the workday length is arguably a function of a dispersed workforce that span multiple time zones, cultures and countries that make setting boundaries between work and life (non-work). The ability to be contacted day or night has loosened the definition of a work emergency. The old guardrails (was it worth waking up an entire household with a late night call to someone’s home phone?) have been eradicated.

Now, the ease with which someone can check work email well into the evening, even shortly before bedtime, has morphed into an expectation. It would seem not only antiquated, but downright irresponsible, for anyone with senior management obligations to stop checking work email at 5, 7 or perhaps even 9 pm.

Is work-life balance now just. . .life? Adding further complication to the erosion of the workday is the appeal of the concept altogether. Today, many Millennials are not interested in any such a division at all. Rather, they are motivated to find a job they would do even if they weren’t paid, as the adage goes. Instead of pushing back on the amount of time they spend at work, they are redefining work as something that inspires and motivates them enough that they don’t need to “balance” it with other, arguably more enjoyable, activities.

Work globally, reward locally. The definition of the ideal workday might be almost existential given the changes in how we are connected continuously and making transactions globally. But what about simpler, more concrete ways that understanding the needs of a global workforce are as diverse as the people they represent. A workplace, is also not a finite, static thing across cultures and geographies.

While Millennials in places like the United States value the ability to work from home, that doesn’t necessarily represent Millennials everywhere. In some communities a home is shared with extended family, or very small, or both. In Paris this summer, offices were a refuge from record heat, as most apartments are not air-conditioned. Medical insurance remains key for many American employees, less so for Western Europeans with nationalised health care systems.

Understanding the needs of a global workforce is key to staying competitive

For Generation X leaders, the challenge lies in appealing to both the philosophical and technological evolution of the workday, added with the complex geographical variances in work benefits. Throw in generational differences, and it can feel overwhelming. But it’s going to be key to recruiting and retaining talent in a world that is no longer dominated by a few multinational companies imposing their values around the globe. Millennials have been well-documented as less loyal to employers than prior generations, and employee satisfaction has evolved from monetary to experiential definitions. On the other hand, Gen X can relate when they consider their own contribution to the transformation of workplace expectations. Perhaps the ultimate work-life balance is, after all, no longer choosing between the two.

Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.

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