Talking points – diversity in the workplace

We’ve moved into a world where, in developed markets in particular, it won’t be unusual to see a
17-year-old and a 70-year-old on the same team. And their approach to work – how and when they do it – will inevitably be very different. As one participant in PwC’s recent 100 Club meeting said: “Millennials tend to be ‘togglers’, constantly switching between different tasks and communications streams, while older people are ‘compartmentalisers’ who break things up to tackle them.”

But this discussion raises an entirely different problem. We’re all guilty of generalisation to describe identifiable ‘groups’ of employees. Generation X, Gen Y, Millennials, Baby Boomers – they all conjure up an idea of an employee ‘type’. While these group names can be useful short-hand, the danger is that we slip into a broad-brush approach when it’s clear that the  modern approach to HR is built on an entirely different premise.

Understanding true diversity

The difficulty is that it’s easy to talk about Millennials without considering the fact that every Millennial is different. In fact, many of the characteristics we associate with that generation are almost entirely unique to Western cultures – there’s a real possibility that the only thing that a Millennial from Boston has in common with a Millennial from Mumbai is their age.

What we’re talking about is diversity, in its modern form – the recognition that people are different, have different aspirations and circumstances, and want different things. But for HR, ‘diversity’ comes with some long-standing and heavy baggage.

As another participant at the 100 Club meeting put it: “Many HR functions are obsessed with still having a culture of equitable treatment and non-discrimination at a time when more employees want personalised service and to be treated as an individual.” For HR, that means adopting a fundamentally different approach: “The embedded HR mindset of treating everyone in the same way has to change”.

Adopting a new kind of performance management

The need for a new approach is particularly true of performance management. An organisation’s ‘talent’ is a collection of individuals from different generations and cultures, each with their own needs, preferences and motivations, and that means an approach to talent and performance management that’s flexible enough to fit them all. It means recognising that people work for many things other than money, and that motivation can come in many forms.

There’s no single, mystical initiative that will provide the answer to good performance management overnight. But what’s clear is that HR has to adapt, and quickly.

Jon Andrews is Head of our Human Resource Services practice in the UK.

The PwC HRD 100 Club is a forum aimed at HR directors of the FTSE 100 and Fortune Global 500 companies, where members can share knowledge and keep informed of current HR issues. For more information click here.

You can read more articles on the various challenges of performance management in issue 28 of Hourglass magazine.