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Fresh Eyes

Anita Lettink
Anita Lettink
Hi, I just returned from a vacation trip to New York and Toronto, which provided the inspiration for this newsletter. I hope you were able to take some time off and recharge.
This is a packed newsletter, and I have so much to share: from my new payroll book to generational insights, an HR Tech unicorns debate and a startup competition. So let’s jump right to it!
Thanks to everyone who responded to my question for topics I should write about - I am evaluating your suggestions and will use them in upcoming newsletters. Stay tuned!

Fresh Eyes
I just came home from my vacation: I took my nephew on a graduation trip, - although two years later because of the pandemic - and he chose New York. This was his first time in North America. I’ve been to New York many times, and didn’t expect it to be a new experience. But it was, because I got to see the city through his eyes. And that led to new insights for me as well.
When we walked through NYC, he pointed out sights that I had not noticed before. Or that I thought were special. But to him they were, because he knew them from movies he watched or games he played, and now he saw them in real life. Also, I hardly ever eat fast food. But because he’d seen all the chains in series, he wanted to try a couple. And guess what: the food wasn’t as bad as I expected. Some of it was actually quite okay.
It was also the first time in many years that I traveled without my laptop (I know…). It allowed me to completely unplug and not think about work at all. And to my surprise, after 10 days or so, inspiration struck and new ideas just popped into my head. Good thing I had a Notes app on my phone…
Which got me thinking: looking at something through someone else’s eyes gives you a different perspective and opens your mind to new ideas. And it’s the same in our place of work: when you’ve been with your company for a while, you might overlook the benefits that new people value most. So if you feel stuck (or if you’re one of the “quiet quitters” - side eye-roll), maybe it’s time to seek out some of the new joiners and look at your workplace through their eyes.
You might even discover that some habits or benefits that you take for granted, are exactly what makes it great to other people. Who knows? You could find a whole new appreciation for what you have plus meet someone new! Let me know how it goes.
A new payroll? Be prepared!
I don’t know if it’s just me, but payroll was in the news a lot this summer and it wasn’t good. From nurses in the US to care givers in Canada, retail workers in the UK and government employees in Finland, people everywhere experienced payslip issues after the go-live of a new payroll. Some employees weren’t paid at all, some received less than they were entitled to or got no overtime. Bottom line: when people don’t get paid, financial problems are right around the corner. People needed loans to get through the month, and even visited the food bank. Not a good look for their employers.
It would be easy to point the finger at payroll vendors, but each of these cases involved a different solution or service. Some payrolls were run in-house, while others were outsourced. Which leads me to conclude that something goes wrong early on in the process between the buyer and the vendor, and for some reason, they decide to go live with a new payroll that isn’t working as it should.
So it’s more important than ever to be prepared when you are shopping for a new payroll. And that’s why I wrote a book: “How to Select Your Next Payroll.”
It contains all my knowledge of 20+ years in the payroll industry, and it will help you start a new payroll selection on the right terms. When you apply the approach I describe, you can be confident that you collect the right information and provide the vendor with the correct requirements. You’ll also understand what happens when the vendor evaluates your request, and what goes into creating a (pricing) proposal. BONUS: when you buy the book and send me the receipt, I’ll send you the templates for free. It will give you a jump start on getting it right from the beginning.
Some of you already downloaded my book: if you did, it would be awesome if you give it some stars or leave a short review! Big thank you to Stacey, Max, Pete, Nick and Steve for providing wonderful quotes.
Demographics and the workforce
When I speak about the Future of Work, I focus on what I consider the 3 defining issues of this decade: demographics, skills and automation. And depending on the country I’m in, I use population charts to visualize the severity of the issues for local HR professionals. It’s really true that a picture says more than a thousands words.
People will often comment that I am too pessimistic when I discuss the link between the labor shortage and demographics: “Yes, it’s hard to find good people. But the next recession will erase the labor shortage.” Well, not in Europe. And Japan, China and North America are in the same boat. So when I saw this chart, I knew I had to share it with you, because it’s so clear why a recession won’t solve anything:
World population by median age
World population by median age
A median population age of 40+ years isn’t good for a healthy workforce: not only do you have to worry about a well-balanced workforce, it’s very likely that the majority of workers don’t have the right skills, simply because they received their main education decades ago. It makes it even more important to embrace life-long learning.
It’s also unsustainable from a social security and pensions perspective: in the coming years, fewer people will earn money while having to support more people than today. We can’t waste time to come up with solutions: for example, instead of thinking that AI is a threat to jobs, why not view it as a means to augment the workforce and have people work on activities that add value? (This excellent chart was created by Lars Boogaard for the Dutch program Nieuwsuur. )
Fresh data on generations at work
I know it’s popular to attribute a work ethic to a whole generation: “Millennials are all …” It’s also wrong. You’ve heard me say before that the differences within a generation are larger than the differences between them.
The United Nations released the 2022 world population numbers and I used them to add some clarity to the ongoing debate. Just by looking at the totals, you’ll see how pointless it is to talk about a generation:
Generations by size
Generations by size
With the exception of the Silent Generation, every other group encompasses at least 1 Billion people. How can all these people share a common trait? Or show the same behaviors at work? It’s fascinating to discover that contrary to popular opinion, Millennials aren’t the largest generation. It’s Generation Z, even though half of them are still in school and the youngest won’t enter the workplace for at least 10 years.
I also did a deep dive to explore the generations per region. Let’s start with an overview in absolute numbers. It’s clear that Asia, with the world’s most populous countries (China and India) outnumbers every other region by far:
Generations per region by numbers
Generations per region by numbers
When we look at regions by percentage as in the chart below, you often hear that Africa has the youngest population. 75% of their workforce age population are Gen Z and Millennials. But when you look at the chart above, you’ll also notice that Africa’s total population size doesn’t come close to the size of Gen Z in Asia. So when you start slicing workforce numbers for yourself, always compare absolute numbers and percentages for new insights and perspectives. Comparing the charts side by side make the workforce issues we will be faced with in the near future very clear:
Generations per region by percentage
Generations per region by percentage
No matter how important these number are, when you make changes at work, forget the generations: think of people as individuals. Personalization is key to a thriving workplace in the 2020s. Life events will tell you much more about the specific needs of an individual, and these events don’t correspond to age groups anymore, because people continuously adopt different lifestyles. As example, some people have kids at a young age, while others start a family later in life.
Which means Gen Z, Millennials and even Gen X-ers might need the corresponding benefits. See how generations become pointless as a means to segregate the workforce? Offering people a menu of options that they can choose from is much more employee friendly, and allows them to be in control and make individual choices that fit their current lifestyle. That’s what it is important and will make you stand out as employer.
New in HR Tech
I was pretty surprised to discover that the Unicorn overview from CB Insights conveniently left out HR Tech. They included the vendors, but added them to “Internet Software & Services” or even “Fintech”. Which meant that HR Tech solutions fall in the same category as Canva (design) and Strava (fitness tracker). It doesn’t get more generic than that: isn’t every Unicorn on the list an internet business?
I wrote a LinkedIn post about it, and it went viral. And because I think HR Tech deserves a separate category, I did some work to create the one and only HR Tech Unicorns overview. I think I captured all of them, but let me know if I missed one and I’ll add it. Feel free to share the slide, but please include the attribution.
HR Tech Unicorns
HR Tech Unicorns
And I’ll leave you with the need for fresh eyes and perspectives in HR Tech. I just saw an HR Tech Awards list, where a couple of 15-year old solutions won the “most innovative” category. If there’s one thing I know about HR Tech: the older (or more mature) the product, the more complex it gets. Yes, companies will add some innovations, but they are more like updates, nothing mind-blowing. The reason is obvious: existing clients can’t handle a constant stream of innovations, because that would mean they have to adjust their internal processes all the time.
Real innovation comes from young companies that are not yet bogged down by existing features, demanding clients, and internal policies and procedures. So I find it awkward when they don’t appear among the “most innovative solutions” nominations.
Time to take a fresh look! I’ll be at Unleash World in Paris next month to lead the Startup competition. I’m looking forward to seeing new companies that bring exciting solutions to help you support employees even better. Let me know if you’ll be there too!
Have a great day, Anita
PS: I know you are used to finding a selection of links to articles and reports at the bottom of this newsletter, but the reader survey revealed that you enjoy my articles, and prefer to see the links in the main body. So that’s where you’ll find them from now on.
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Anita Lettink
Anita Lettink @let_anita

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