Adapting to a Digitally Proficient Workforce

January 29, 2018

Adapting to a Digitally Proficient Workforce

In many ways, the digital-native generation has a head start. They were born into the digital world and intrinsically possess a digital mindset, two advantages that help them address the challenges of keeping up with ever-evolving technologies. But for businesses, the benefits of this innate sensibility in today’s workforce go well beyond the savvy use of technology and social media. Digital natives bring a competitive advantage to organizations by challenging traditional thinking at a time of great disruption, and their natural self-confidence and digital mindset enables them to quickly lend themselves to new developments in the business landscape.

But as many companies know, adapting an organization to better attract a digital-centric workforce is not easy (with high rewards come high expectations). For many large businesses in particular, the task can seem insurmountable. They often ask talent leaders like myself, “Where do we begin?”

Fortunately, there are a number of levers leaders can begin pulling – today – to adapt to the needs and demands of the growing digital-native workforce:


Have another look at the handbook

The new workforce is driving changes in human resource benefits and practices (i.e., flexible work schedules and leave policies). In fact, a recent national survey by SurveyMonkey revealed that all of the top 10 companies millennials want to work for offer innovative benefits. Where possible, consider incorporating these new trends into company policy to show that you mean business.


Get everyone involved

Information exchanges and employee coaching exists in many workforces now. For example, companies such as UnitedHealth, Target and Pershing have implemented a reverse mentoring program to open lines of communication. These techniques help avoid segmenting generations of employees and address organic barriers that may have cropped up over time. If your business is late to the game, implement a reverse mentoring program to connect older generations with the younger employees entering the workforce.


Plant the purpose seed

The next generation of employees want to make a real difference, but some consider their work to be devoid of value and meaning. This point of view has a direct effect on loyalty and engagement, sometimes with drastic consequences (research estimates that millennial turnover costs the US $30.5 billion annually). Companies have an opportunity to attract and – more importantly, retain – digital-natives by offering them the opportunity to pursue challenging and stimulating work with positive impacts. Keep digital-natives motivated by activating purpose in your organization from corporate strategy to operations to branding to talent development.


Maintain 360-degree learning programs

Digital natives have a tremendous thirst for knowledge. Continuous learning, upskilling, feedback and development ensures they continue to expand their skills (employees at Intel and Tesla, for example, use online learning platforms like Degreed, EdX and Khan Academy to learn new skills, stay up to date on the newest developments, and sharpen their abilities). Instituting a 360-degree learning program sends the message that you’re invested in your employees and your business knows what is important to them.


Walk the walk

Digital-natives have never known a world – or a workplace – without technology. However, ISACA’s recent Digital Transformation Barometer research shows that less than a third of enterprises are making it a priority to evaluate the opportunities emerging digital technologies might bring on a consistent basis. This spells trouble to our digital-native cohort who yearn for more digital platforms and capabilities at work. Take a look at technologies such as robotic process automation and machine learning which free up time for bigger picture analytical tasks and a more user-friendly employee experience (EY has implemented over 1,000 bots to help our workforce do just this).


Digital-natives are quick learners, multi-taskers and bring high energy. Better yet, they love a good challenge. To attract and retain this emerging workforce, corporations must provide them with opportunities to build their careers, pursue their purpose and – ultimately – create the life that they want.

Take the first step with some simple investments, and you’re well on your way.

The Authors: 

Martin Fiore is Tax Talent Leader–Americas at EY (Ernst & Young), where he oversees attracting, retaining, growing, and supporting talent through a comrehensive holistic approach to compensation, benefits, recognition, and well-being programs.