· Features

A challenge can be an opportunity

HR could prove its worth by raising the levels of satisfaction among 31-35 year-old workers.

No organisation can afford to ignore the findings of the latest Vodafone report. Nature of Work reveals that older people are the happiest and most motivated workers in the UK, their satisfaction levels soaring above those in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. Workers in the 31-35 year-old age group feel 'undervalued' (59%), 'unfulfilled' (49%) and 'demotivated' (43%). The report also suggests Generation Y - those born after the 1980s - are likely to be disillusioned by the time they reach their 30s.

Although these findings present challenges for HR professionals, they also provide them with an opportunity to be assertive and find ways to address the engagement problem of our future leaders and general workforce.

Employee engagement, or the lack of it, can have a huge impact on an organisation. HR should be identifying solutions to this problem. However, it must not be left to HR alone. Senior HR people should work alongside the board to champion engagement and encourage regular discussions to drive it forward. For example, employee engagement could be a headline metric on balance scorecards, rather than a reason to conduct an annual employee survey.

HR directors need to help CEOs to embrace engagement. Senior management teams must live and breathe employee engagement so that line managers replicate this behaviour and become accountable.

Employees who are managed well are keen to share their energy, seek ways to develop career paths and enjoy great experiences at work. As HR professionals, we can be the catalyst and provide the frameworks and tools for organisations to adopt.

But what can we do about the career malaise suffered by the 30-35 age group? The real issue is 'how to manage expectations and achieve career aspirations'. This group is continually told they will achieve their goals. From their teenage years, they have achieved good academic results, sought exciting careers paths and enjoyed early financial rewards. However, what they really want is a fulfilling career with rewarding and challenging prospects.

At Vodafone UK, we have a large population of young staff. We give employees accountability early on in their careers as a sign of our investment in their future. We create strong development programmes to help move people forward. For example, becoming a store manager means taking on the responsibility of the store, sales targets and people management. Training is vital to support the transition to such an important role.

Thirtysomethings also want a good work-life balance. Vodafone is in a strong position to offer work-life balance through technology, allowing employees to work flexibly from home. This also shows there is a high level of trust within our culture.

The Nature of Work research identified a number of areas in which employees are dissatisfied. Generation X and Generation Y have different mindsets. Of those under 30, 45% believe they will be doing something entirely different for another organisation within the next five years. HR needs to establish career development initiatives and reward programmes as a way of informing younger staff about the opportunities within a business.

Poor employee engagement can be damaging to any organisation and a strategic approach can help to encourage it to be taken seriously. Prompt action by HR, managers and leaders can help to engage staff. Every employee is unique and a 'sheep dip' approach will not meet the needs of everyone. HR is in a prime position to show its knowledge and advise the board. HR can also support managers who understand their staff and know how best to engage each individual employee.

Matthew Brearley is HR director, Vodafone UK