How to Boost the Productivity of Your Global Workforce
By Kathryn Hendy-Ford, Senior Manager, HR Advisory, Radius
HR experts know that employees are at the heart of any business. HR is after all tasked with attracting and retaining talented, committed employees. What is perhaps less well known is that HR leaders must also find ways to promote employee productivity in order to achieve maximum output and increase the chances that their businesses succeed.
Although the equation is relatively straightforward, many global leaders inside and outside HR struggle to understand how they can boost workplace productivity, particularly when managing a global workforce where employees may have vastly different cultural expectations and will be operating under different sets of labor laws depending on their office locations. There is no magic formula for ensuring high employee productivity across borders, but there are a few key ingredients that are essential to promoting the productivity of your global workforce. I’ll address them here.
Generations X, Y and Z
Many of our parents and grandparents are eager to point out the differences between today’s employment market and “how it was back in my day.” Their observations should not be dismissed. The business world is indeed a very different place than it was just a generation or two ago. Businesses have taken advantage of monumental technological advancements since the advent of the internet. Even small enterprises can now compete in the global marketplace, which would have been practically impossible before the rise of electronic commerce.
Technology advancements have also shaped the worldviews of Generations X, Y and Z. Like little green aliens from Mars, members of these generations have in some cases radically different sets of values, expectations and even languages than previous generations. Your hip grandmother may know what a hashtag is, but can she decipher #OOTD, #WCW and HMU? (If not, you can refer her to Urban Dictionary, but beware that many entries aren’t suitable for work or for the culturally conservative.)
As a global employer, you may not need to know these and similar terms — a task that can be virtually impossible when employing people that live in different countries — but you will need to understand your younger employees’ general workplace expectations. It is crucial that employers adapt their strategies to account for these expectations so they can attract and retain Generation X, Y and Z talent and keep them productive.
Let’s take an example. Generation Z is the youngest of the age groups mentioned, with birthdays generally taken to start in the mid-1990s. They are expected to occupy 20% of the workforce by 2020. “Gen Z” is the first generation of digital natives — they have never known a world without the internet. As a result, you can expect them to know how to thoroughly research your company fast. They’ll expect transparency in your operations, including a company that performs in a way that it advertises. You can also be sure Gen Zs will conduct research to understand exactly what the market will bear for their services. So be prepared to offer competitive salaries if you want to retain your top employees and keep them engaged. And as I discussed in a recent blog post, high levels of employee engagement lead to high levels of employee retention and productivity. Let’s now discuss employee engagement and cultural factors a little further.
Employee Engagement and Cultural Awareness
Enhancing employee engagement is the first key ingredient to boosting the productivity of your workforce. Employees’ perceptions of their office environment, reward and benefits programs, day-to-day duties, and relationships with colleagues and management are all important contributors to how engaged they are at work. Cultural and generational differences also play a large role in determining what engagement contributors are most important to employees.
It is essential that employers accurately measure and put in place action plans that promote employee engagement across generations and cultures, which will in turn promote employee productivity. Obviously this is easier said than done and is a large subject. (It is addressed in more detail in my previously published post already mentioned.) At a high level, multinationals must involve employees from all countries of operation directly in the ownership and accountability of engagement objectives or action plans to ensure positive, lasting change.
According to a recent Forum Corporation survey, 40% of Gen Zs “identified flexible working and good work-life balance as important” to them, compared with just 23% for business leaders. Indeed, many members of Generations X, Y and Z are tweeting about having it all — both a rich family life and a fulfilling career — as you read this, though previous generations have tended to view these as mutually exclusive. Many businesses and even some governments are listening to these calls for greater work-life balance. For example, the UK now legally permits employees with 26 weeks’ service with an employer to request flexible work hours. In Sweden, employees who are parents are entitled by statute to reduce their normal working hours by between one-eighth and three-quarters in the period from a child’s birth until his or her eighth birthday.
The flexible working phenomenon is not isolated to Europe. According to a survey of more than 20 US-China Business Council member companies, many Chinese employers are now allowing flexible start and finish times, working from home and opportunities to transition to part-time work. And China is hardly renowned for its robust worker-protection laws. Essentially, employers in nearly every country are under increased pressure to establish a flexible working culture, not only to ensure that employees’ expectations are met but also to ensure they are adhering to global legal requirements.
Effective Appraisal and Performance Management Strategy
There is another staple ingredient to promoting productivity in the global workplace: developing an effective appraisal and performance management process. This will provide employees with the support they need to meet their full potential by assessing learning gaps. It will also allow employers to effectively manage their underperforming employees.
Global employers must ensure that their performance management processes are legally compliant in all their countries of operation. For example in Ireland, employers are required to issue a series of disciplinary sanctions prior to terminating an individual for poor performance. And in Germany, employers must provide exactly-worded warning letters and conduct performance-comparison exercises before terminating an employee. Employers must also account for cultural differences across countries of operation. For example, cultural expectations related to women in the workplace will be different in Sweden than in Saudi Arabia. These considerations must also be balanced with company mission and values when developing performance management processes.
In summary, there are a few universal key ingredients for boosting the productivity of your workforce. How you add these ingredients, however, and in what amounts, will be determined by your organization’s unique situation, including your countries of operation, number of employees, company values and other factors.
All employers want to promote employee productivity. If you want to be successful in that area you must consider not just your customers’ expectations but also your employees’ expectations. Those interns and graduates are Snapchatting and Instagramming their way towards the fast-evolving global employment marketplace you inhabit. And if you want your business to remain competitive and not get left behind with typewriters and floppy disks, you must understand how to accommodate them.