Empower and engage: how HR can win the talent war in the digital age

We’ve all read and heard a lot about millennials and digital natives, and how these generations are serial job hoppers who have come to represent the transitory nature of the workplace. And, while it may drive some interesting headlines, of course the truth is not quite as black and white.


If I were to ask you to take a guess at how engaged the global workforce actually is while at work, what would you think? Well, according to the Gallup polling firm, only 13 per cent of workers surveyed considered themselves “highly engaged”. The same study found that upwards of half the workforce would not recommend their employer to their peers.


If you add to this the findings of a recent AMA study that discovered 52 per cent of managers “see their employees as less loyal than five years ago”, then we can see a picture of general workplace apathy emerging which we cannot simply blame on the millennials.


We’re entering an era where workers are thinking more about how they build a broader range of skills and create new experiences, rather than just climbing the career ladder and achieving an annual pay increase.


The connected world continually creates career opportunities via tools such as LinkedIn and other social channels. The challenge for human resources is attracting, developing and retaining talent in a market where the next opportunity is potentially just a click away. These issues lead HR to question how it is approaching areas such as people management and leadership development for all employees.


One possible solution is ensuring HR is fighting fire with fire. Citing research from Goldman Sachs, millennials are not prepared to work using the same systems and processes that previous generations have. They live and breathe technology, and expect their employers to provide digital and social tools that resemble the platforms they use in their private lives, such as Facebook and Instagram.

It could be argued that the same technology which leads them to social networks and the wealth of online recruiters can also be used as a tool of engagement within the business’s four walls. Let’s explore three key areas that can help HR leaders better engage, not just millennials and their digital cohorts, but the entire workforce.


More than six in ten digital natives recently told Deloitte that their “leadership skills were not being fully developed by their employer”. While you can’t stop an employee from leaving if they want to, you can make them feel like they’re in control of their own career trajectory, and give them the tools and information to understand their development areas.

Traditionally, data has been kept in the hands of the few rather than the many and getting access to it could be a long, painful process using tools which were not user friendly. HR and its business partners should be thinking about how they can open up and democratise data across their organisation, using tools based on the consumer web which push access to information to the front line where employees will be looking to use it.

By giving employees access to systems which look and feel like the tools they use outside the office, HR can reduce the time it takes to do simple administrative tasks and improve employee engagement with the HR function. Similarly, mobile is now something workers expect and it’s important to make HR tools available to employees via the channels they expect to drive engagement.


Employees are increasingly looking for new career opportunities that fit their own personal interests, and deliver fulfilment and purpose. For this reason HR should think about what we at Workday call a “culture of opportunity”.

This means being less stringent about policies or rigidly structured career paths and being more transparent about new opportunities that exist within their organisation. Crucially, this means giving employees the tools that provide a personalised view of these opportunities, such as understanding which other employees held similar positions in the past and what trajectory their careers took.


Promoting and acting with transparency is also crucial in engaging employees and stimulating the workforce. Employees want to be heard, and having the capability for HR to gauge the views of the workforce quickly via digital tools can be an easy way to understand the concerns of employees so that they can be addressed.

This is not always evident at some companies, particularly with the annual performance review, which is fast becoming redundant. Due to the speed at which employee roles change, having a single annual review can also be insufficient and demoralise employees, while restricting feedback sessions to only one or two sessions a year can be equally demotivating.

Businesses need HR leaders who are capable of becoming change agents, creating working cultures which inspire collaboration, transparency and employee empowerment

Measuring an employee’s performance, whether stellar or pointing to areas for improvement, should not be carried out in isolation. The tools now exist that allow HR to capture, measure and aggregate information in real time, creating an environment which drives regular feedback and puts the process in the hands of the employee so they can actively participate in their development.

PwC believes that by 2020 millennials will account for almost half the global workforce, which gives today’s HR leaders a narrow window to get this right for all employees. Businesses need HR leaders who are capable of becoming change agents, creating working cultures which inspire collaboration, transparency and employee empowerment. That means a shift in culture, and a greater understanding of how technology can enable the real-time feedback and access to information the workforce truly craves.

For more information please visit www.workday.com/uk