The Generation Game at Work
We are living longer and retiring later, and this means up to five generations of employees may be working together at any one time. With employees often working well beyond 70, as school leavers join the workforce, companies have a striking challenge – managing a multi-generation workforce with very different characteristics.
It is changing the way we work. Older workers are adapting to their technological challenges while workers just entering the workplace must adjust to how things are done by their older co-workers. A survey by the Office for National Statistics cites the main challenges in managing a multigenerational workforce as:
- Different communication styles
- Expectations of in-office work and flexible working
- Balancing the needs for new ideas against maintaining the status quo
- Managing expectations for speedy promotions
- Negative generational stereotypes
- Company culture clashes
How we communicate is a key issue: meetings are more popular with older employees than younger ones who, you won’t be surprised to learn, prefer to communicate electronically either using email or chat platforms.
What motivates different generations:
- Baby boomers (1946-1964) want health insurance, a boss they respect and a decent salary
- Generation X (1965-1980) value salary, job security alongside job challenges and are self-sufficient
- Generation Y (1981-1996) known as millennials put equal value on remuneration and job security but also want to pursue their passions and need regular feedback
- Generation Z (1997-present) also value salary, but pursuing their passions is preferred over job security, they also want plenty of feedback
It can be useful for HR to get a handle on the demographics within the organization. Use data and analytics to gauge insight from employees, to understand how your workforce is made up, and identify trends within the groups. Those of different generations and at different stages of life want different things from their careers. If you can take an employee-centered approach and accommodate employees where possible, it will pay dividends. A focus on results rather than the process will allow the organization to make changes to suit an employee’s preferences, so they deliver better results – be flexible around the needs of different generations.
Don’t be misled by lazy stereotyping, lots of older workers cope very happily with technology and younger are keen to contribute. On a cautionary note, the CIPD report that their research found diversity within each generation as significant as across generations. We all bring unique strengths to work.
Share and collaborate
Bear in mind that mixed-age teams allow older employees to play off their long experience and share knowledge with younger workers, enabling the institutional knowledge transfer that can help in bringing millennials up to speed.
Feedback is a key issue. Older generation workers are used to structured feedback, for example through formal annual appraisals; while younger workers tend to prefer ongoing regular feedback which is developmental and aimed at real-time learning, rather formal performance appraisals.
Managers need to evolve strategies to identify the strengths and abilities of each working generation while recognizing that each employee responds to different management styles, work environments, and motivational techniques differently and that affects overall performance. It is important that employers facilitate an organizational culture that recognizes employee values, provides relevant rewards and development opportunities while creating meaningful work that gives individuals a greater sense of engagement and satisfaction.
At 10Eighty, we believe that building a culture which encourages collaborative working is crucial to good workforce planning. A multi-generational workplace benefits from diverse skills, learning styles and aspirations around career progress but it also involves a range of challenges for corporate leadership.
We can all learn from each other and examining generational trends is a starting point in understanding others’ preferences and dealing with differences from a professional perspective.