PREAMBLE: The phenomenal rate in which digital and technology is transforming our world is affecting our working needs. The digital age has redefined the meaning of ‘work’ and is relatively aligned around the world. The interest in big data now means we can track beyond age, gender and location, and as digital behaviours evolve, it is crucial that HR professionals take responsibility in assessing behavioural change in the workplace to identify solutions that can reshape the way we operate. Let us start by looking into five digital-related behavioural trends and ensure that we set up our organisations for success to; a) retain strong workforce talent, b) encourage employee engagement and c) lead by example with good HR practices.

1. The complexities of Millennials 

Referring to human beings as trends may be peculiar, but Millennials will continue to be a vital instrument in the drive of digital. They are under 30, and they are dictating their needs in the digital space, determining the shelf life of every platform, defining what is on trend and even creating new trends. Many studies have come out defining Millennials in an attempt to determine the best way to communicate with them. However, one easily-made is assuming all Millennials are the same. They are a unique generation and as such, it is important to listen to their opinions.

What to do: Those in your organisation need a platform to be creative and share their ideas for reshaping your business – offer them that platform and immerse yourself in their world. When recruiting, consider the skills of Millennials as equally as valuable in shaping the future of your organisation, as recruiting for those with many years of experience.  The two are complimentary to the successful growth of your business.

2. The Increasing demand for learning

With the Internet allowing peers to instantly share their work globally, serious organisation have recognised that competition, cuts across borders. The desire for continuous professional development is therefore on the rise. Good news – education no longer needs to be in the classroom. The ease of use of video platforms and editing software means we should expect a growth in the e-learning category. Whilst I would always promote blended learning as best practice, it is not always feasible to send employees for workshops. However, e-learning may be an immediate solution to ensure that the organisation is still developing. LinkedIn has recently launched LinkedIn Learning, which is a video-based learning platform and such virtual education tools means Africa now has wider access to education, a range of experienced specialists and more choice. Vice versa, Africa can now teach the rest of the world the lessons that can only be taught from local experts on this complex continent. And as companies look to expand into this region of the world, e-learning provides opportunities for businesses to gain recognition and development of each other’s knowledge. 

What to do: Explore various e-learning opportunities to allow your workforce to continue to develop, if you are a larger company with capacity, why not look into recording proprietary e-learning modules (and perhaps monetise by selling them to other companies?)

3. Social media – the driving force of an opinionated population 

One in every four minutes spent on the Internet is on a social media platform and where over 2.3 billion users globally are reading and sharing experiences online, it is important to note that this could be in reference to your company and be written in either a positive or negative light. Existing employees have a strong influence on how others view your organisation. They may share photos of office perks such as pizza and coke Fridays, whilst expressing their love for their company. Alternatively, your employees may have nothing to say about your organisation, which may not sound too off-putting, but when your competitors’ employees are singing their bosses praises, it automatically positions you in second place. Oversees, Glassdoor is a perfect example of a social listening platform designed specifically to receive anonymous feedback from workers, to help companies understand their employees’ opinions and is increasing in contributions year on year. 

What to do: Feedback online, whether written positively or negatively, provides important information on employer brand perception. What is key is how you respond to it; always communicate the actions you are going to take to improve the organisation. Create an internal listening platform where employees can vent frustrations (to avoid airing dirty laundry in public) and create natural positive experiences internally in addition to social media advocates, to organically drive the messages externally.

4. The diversification of the ‘gig economy’

There is a saying; “If you don’t build your own dream, someone else will hire you to help them build theirs,” which seems to be the fear of many of our youth living in Africa.  So, we see a swarm of recently graduated CEOs building their empires, scouting their own contracts and taking cash-in-hand ‘gigs’. The term ‘gig’ comes from musicians taking one-off deals to perform at bars, clubs and restaurants.  This culture has spread across all industries. On one hand, it represents a proactive generation of entrepreneurs – the true spirit of Africa. But what it also creates is a fragmented work infrastructure. These businesses lack the structure of scaling into a fully functioning organisation; with all the frameworks that experienced HR professionals put in place, and so risk building strong foundations for a strong future workforce. It also means business owners may start to experience a decrease in loyalty in their employees; using working hours to complete private projects, lower retention rates or higher staff turnover. The economy ahead is looking shaky in this respect. Either way, gig culture is here to stay. 

What to do: Plan for a robust employee engagement strategy and provide the new generation of employees a reason to want to be a part of a larger organisation and feel like a partner vs. a worker. Look at implementing internal ‘gigs’ to encourage the personal talents of employees.

5.  Customisation becomes an expectation 

We are all entitled to choice, and at the click of a button, we can now tailor our choices by; style, colour, material, flavour, smell, price, size, texture, the list goes on (we can even opt for personal messages or names engraved on products). Brands such a Nike, Coca-Cola and Oreo are to name but a few examples that have tapped into the need for personalisation, early on. Now we see this as the norm in the digital space, even in its simple form of changing profile backgrounds. The digital age is constantly expressing differences as a way to celebrate diversity and respect for different choices and opinions. In the workplace, there is a common need for choice, especially as individual circumstances differ. The need of a new mother will inevitably contrast to that of a young single male, both working in the same office. 

What to do: Re-assess your company benefits to allow for flexibilities where possible for e.g. flexible working hours or working from home one-day a week, birthday afternoon off or birthday party in the office, annual fuel voucher orannual grocery voucher, monthly cinema tickets or fruit salad on Wednesdays, a carousel of etc. The idea of choice and customisation of packages is likely to drive positive engagement. Give it a try!

Whether you take a proactive, reactive or non-active approach to addressing these changes is entirely your choice, what is advisable is to assess the potential return that these recommendations could bring to you and your business.

Written By: Joyce Dodd


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