Your workforce is changing. But most businesses still don't understand how to motivate, satisfy and retain this increasingly global, diverse and, yes, demanding employee base.

That's one of the findings from a new study by SAP SE, a German software company that has invested in a number human resources-related companies over the last few years. Conducted by Oxford Economics on behalf of SAP, the study shows too many companies are still stuck in the stone age when it comes to everything fro salaries, flexibility and overall abilities to keep top talent.

Get to Work

The report was based on a two-part survey rolled out to individuals in 27 countries. Researchers polled more than 2,700 executives in one survey and more than 2,700 employees in the second. 

Not surprisingly, the research showed employer/employee relationships today are more flexible than ever. Some 83 percent of company heads say that they use consultants, intermittent employees or contingent workers, and this trend is likely to continue.

“These new relationships require companies to manage workers in new ways,” the report noted. It can also create regulatory challenges when these newly-defined relationships butt up against more traditional labor laws.

And this isn’t the only challenge the evolving workforce will bring. Businesses will also likely have issues when it comes to helping employees grow, learn and remain satisfied.

Human Resources professionals are in the best position to help businesses navigate these changes. But in many cases, company executives fail to give HR sufficient resources or decision-making powers.

Managing Change

To head off some of these potential issues, businesses should have a comprehensive strategy in place to manage workforce changes, the report suggests. 

Get to know millennials. The good news is that there are a lot of myths about millennials, said Sameer Patel, senior vice president and general manager, Products and Go-to-Market at SAP. “They are motivated just like the rest of us – there’s an element of compensation, quality, work and job satisfaction and a desire to achieve work-life balance,” he said. “These findings are especially important because we need to go back to holistically looking at workforce productivity and cross-generational engagement and learning instead of looking at separate initiatives for millennials versus the rest.”


Adapt to the use of non-employees. “Organizations have spent the last two decades outsourcing their demand and supply chains for low-cost options. Now we have a situation: the people who know most about our products and interact most frequently with our customers don’t work for us,” said Patel. “Any real HR solution must take into account contract and contingent talent and include this pool set in its larger talent strategy to be competitive.”

Create a learning culture. “Learning is not a one-time effort given the pace of change, so creating a learning culture is the priority,” said Patel. “The study shows why this is important – employees believe that "obsolescence is a bigger concern than layoffs" and firms “invest little in developing their own people." Change the story at your organization by spreading out your efforts. Don’t just focus on technology or millennials. Rather, open the door to formal instruction, promote sharing between peers and foster better interaction between the people build, assemble and sell products. 

Listen carefully. The employees of the future may be motivated and rewarded by different incentives and benefits than in the past. It’s important to listen and stay in tune with what they want to keep them satisfied and engaged.

Give HR the right tools. “One big problem is a lack of metrics and tools, which holds HR back from developing strategies for building the workforce of the future,” the report stated. “While more than half of executives say workforce development is a key differentiator for their firms, they do not have the technology and organization to back it up.”

Organizations need to establish a big-picture view that takes them from opportunities to goal setting to performance. That means an integrated experience between your systems of record, workforce analytics, learning, goals and performance systems and your collaboration applications. This ensures not only strategic follow through but also constant measurement of who is good at what and how to deploy the best resources for the task at hand.

Accommodate Diversity. “The 2020 workforce will be made up of a wider group of ages and nationalities than ever before, so companies will need to have a broader understanding of their people and the markets in which they operate,” the report stated. HR will need to adjust by managing people using more strategic, evidence-based methods.

Companies that get the formula right can harness the power of a strong workforce and reap rewards. “We have to ready the organization to surf on this growth wave — to be sure that we have the systems, the people, the infrastructure, and the processes in place to grab a big share of this growth,” Alessandra Ginante, vice president of human resources at Avon Brazil, notes in the report.

Title image by Jaime Fearer  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.