Understanding your employees' demographic differences

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Different demographic groups of employees have different needs and priorities. By adopting a more flexible approach, HR professionals can take advantage of this to enhance employee commitment and job satisfaction, claims Ron Eldridge.

Why do people leave your organisation? What proportion of your turnover is due to a mismatch between the personal priorities of employees and the organisational offering?

These are straightforward questions, yet relatively few organisations can actually answer them. Organisations tend to adopt a blanket approach to retaining staff. They treat everyone the same because it is easier to assume that employees are similar, rather than different.

However, at TalentDrain, we have just conducted a research study, One Size Does Not Fit All*, which shows that different demographic groups of employees have different needs and priorities. The implication is that, if you want to maintain the commitment of your employees, you have to adopt a much more flexible approach - one that takes into account the gender, age, ethnic, educational and occupational differences that exist.

"Organisations tend to adopt a blanket approach to retaining staff. They treat everyone the same because it is easier to assume that employees are similar, rather than different."

In our research study, 16,000 employees in UK organisations were asked to rank the relative importance of 12 key factors that underpin employee commitment. These were: salary and rewards; career progression; personal growth; well-being; their relationships with their colleagues; their relationship with their manager; job satisfaction; their confidence in their organisation; working conditions; their degree of loyalty and trust; their ethical standards and their level of autonomy at work.

Studies have shown that these are the factors that influence whether or not your employees will stay with your organisation. The key point is that the importance of these factors varies from individual to individual (and from group to group).

What's the difference?

The research found a number of gender differences in the workplace. For example, women express higher organisational commitment and a lower intention to leave than men; women value the quality of their working relationships (with their line manager and their peers) more than men; men value salary and career progression more than women.

Age differences also exist. Older employees have higher levels of job satisfaction and organisational commitment; contrary to Generation Y claims, the importance of work-life balance and concern for corporate and social responsibility increase with age; younger workers, consistent with Generation Y claims, are the most change-orientated and career-driven; career progression and personal growth decrease in importance with age; young men in manual occupations are the least engaged with their jobs and organisations.

While the research reveals no significant differences in organisational commitment or intention to leave between ethnic groups, it found that Indian, Chinese, Pakistani and black African employees place higher importance on career progression than white British people. Pakistani and Chinese groups report the lowest levels of job satisfaction.

"If you want to maintain the commitment of your employees, you have to adopt a much more flexible approach - one that takes into account the gender, age, ethnic, educational and occupational differences that exist."

There are educational differences, as employees with a degree-level education place higher importance on work values linked to challenge and advancement, such as career progression, job satisfaction, personal growth and autonomy. In contrast, non-graduate employees value more tangible, immediate factors such as salary, line manager relationships, loyalty and working conditions. Whilst graduates have higher levels of organisational commitment than non-graduates, they are also more likely to leave an organisation. Graduates working in customer service or administrative roles report the highest intention to leave.

Finally, occupational differences were also revealed by the research. For example, managers, professionals and sales groups have the highest level of job satisfaction. In terms of engagement, the least satisfied with their jobs are machine operatives and those in customer service roles. Strong leadership and clear communication are considered more important by the managerial, professional and sales groups.

Implications

Bear in mind that demographic differences reflect the diversity of the UK labour force. They do not mean that certain groups should be treated any differently.

What the above gender, age, ethnic, educational and occupational differences should serve to highlight is that a one-size-fits-all approach to retaining staff won't work. Instead, HR practitioners need to create a strategy that suits the organisational culture and is flexible enough to satisfy the needs and priorities of different groups of employees.

One way to do this is to have an open and honest debate with each employee. For example, career progression may be very important to a particular individual. But if the structure of your organisation offers only limited hierarchical progression, you need the flexibility to offer possible alternatives such as secondments or internal mobility.

"Instead of thinking of employees as an homogenous connected population, that broadly speaking you can treat as one, you have to see your people as a very different set of individuals, with different needs, priorities and motivations."

Another approach is to ask employees whether they are realising their needs and aspirations within your organisation. Even something as simple as identifying an individual's key drivers, and then eliciting a 1-10 rating of their fulfilment in these areas, can help to identify commitment levels.

Some organisations are now attempting to retain staff by providing a 'shopping list' of commitment factors, such as salary, career progression, personal growth and work-life balance. These factors are discussed with key employees and the individuals are allowed to develop a 'wish list', by selecting the factors that will press the right buttons for them.

In order to satisfy the range of needs and priorities which will be expressed by different individuals and groups, you need to have flexibility within your organisational structures, processes and opportunities.

You also need a change of mindset. Instead of thinking of employees as an homogenous connected population, that broadly speaking you can treat as one, you have to see your people as a very different set of individuals, with different needs, priorities and motivations.

Competitive advantage

HR practitioners should consider how the current levels of engagement and work values of employees vary across the demographic groups in their organisation. By identifying any differences in the work values held by employees, and the extent to which these have been met by the organisation, you'll be able to pinpoint where improvements or interventions are needed. The differences may well occur in different parts of the organisation or they may vary by job role or hierarchical level.

Regardless of the size of your organisation, if you understand the demographic differences (and commonalities) within your employee population, you can cut staff turnover levels, promote diversity and achieve higher levels of motivation, satisfaction and commitment.

*'One Size Does Not Fit All: Demographic Differences in Work Values and Employee Engagement in the UK'. The full report and/or an executive summary can be downloaded free from TalentDrain's website: http://www.talentdrain.com/research

Ron Eldridge is a director of employee engagement and retention specialist TalentDrain, which provides online tools and resources that enable organisations to understand why staff leave and to enhance employee commitment. Please email him at [email protected]

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