One of the few positives of the Coronavirus crisis is how families and communities have united across all generations to work together and look after each other. From retired NHS workers returning to the front line, young people taking responsibility for delivering supplies to the elderly or vulnerable and many more people of all ages embracing new technology so they can at least continue to meet virtually with friends and family.
Amid the huge human cost, there has definitely been an increased appreciation for community and for the skills and qualities that people of different ages can bring.
But can this multigenerational cooperation translate into the workplace? Age is an aspect of diversity that can get overlooked in favour of gender and ethnicity, but it’s still important, especially now that people are delaying retirement and enjoying a second, or even third career. So where does that leave younger people within the workforce?
Our Multi-Generational Workforce
Several factors have contributed to the generational diversity observed in many workplaces today. Technological advancements, flexible working and an increase in the life-long learning mind-set has facilitated later retirements and greater openness to changing careers. The rise of the gig economy in particular has opened up opportunities to people who have finished one career but are perhaps not ready to retire. There are four main generations currently in the workplace:
Boomers (born 1946-1964) – dedicated and hardworking, they believe in teamwork and respect individual performance.
Generation X (born 1965-1980s) – having seen tremendous workplace changes, they believe in self-reliance, have a good work-life balance and a more diverse mindset than Boomers.
Millennials (born 1980s-1994) – they are flexible, technologically savvy, confident and socially aware, with high expectations.
Generation Z (born 1995 onwards) – great consumers of technology, especially social media, good at multi-tasking, cost-conscious (growing up during the recession), believe in the power of the product review and have even higher expectations than Millennials
Advantages of a Multi-Generational Workforce
There are huge benefits to having people of all ages within an organisation and these will become increasingly important as we establish our new normal post the Coronavirus crisis:
Continual accessibility – organisations have an increased capacity to meet customers’ needs round the clock, thanks to a longer working day/week as employees work a mix of ‘set’ and flexible hours, either in an office or remotely, depending on their preference and availability. This may become even more important if elements of social distancing remain in place for a prolonged period.
Greater innovation – a more diverse workforce with different skills, perspectives, experiences and approaches to problem-solving and decision-making supports an atmosphere whereby originality and invention is valued and can flourish. And this may be vital as distancing measures are lifted and organisations find they need to respond to new or different demands in order to survive.
Increased learning opportunities – both classroom and online learning experiences are supplemented by older generations’ sharing of experience and insight. In turn, they learn from younger colleagues’ deftness with technology, for example.
Greater agility – organisations with a diversity of skills, experience, working and thinking styles are more agile and may be better equipped to respond quickly and effectively to change than those organisations where employees have a similar profile. It has been amazing to see the speed with which some companies have made changes to what they do and how they do it during this crisis. Brewdog using their distillery to produce hand sanitiser springs to mind. This business agility will continue to be important to meet the, as yet unknown, challenges post-Coronavirus.
Better customer service – this is about creating strong personal connections between employees and customers. A diverse team will help an organisation form more authentic relationships with a broader range of customers.
Challenges of a Multi-Generational Workforce
But what can be complementary can also bring tension. Traditionally, the diverse approaches and attitudes to work and home-life and expectations regarding reward and leadership, in a multigenerational workforce, have had the potential to impact on an organisation’s ability to create a coherent culture, supported by values that are espoused by all within the workforce. And there are other challenges too. Although it will be interesting to see how these look after the current crisis:
Technology and communication – Millennials and (especially) Generation Z were brought up with technology, use it with ease and embrace ongoing developments. So, the older generation’s less intuitive approach and potentially slower ability to learn new systems can be frustrating for younger colleagues. On the flip side, Boomers and Generation X people may be more comfortable dealing with colleagues and customers face to face or on the phone than Millennials and Generation Z.
Working location and style – Millennials and those of Generation Z expect to be able to work remotely and outside the normal 9-5 schedule favoured by older generations. Technology and accessibility also make them more willing to be geographically mobile. Which may seem strange to Boomers and Generation X who’ve so far enjoyed geographical stability and a life-long career.
Reward & Recognition – The younger generations are highly educated, often with a degree. Growing up, they have often been told that they can do anything they want, that everything is possible. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that according to research by Recruitment Specialist, Robert Walters, 91 percent of Millennials expect rapid career progression. This, coupled with a perceived sense of entitlement, an expectation of higher starting salaries and greater influence within the organisation puts them at odds with older managers and colleagues who started on low salaries and accepted slower progression. The same research shows that 70% of employers think that this is a significant factor in inter-generational workplace tension.
Personal development – as the so-called ‘snowflake’ generation with (reputedly) less resilience than others, Millennials expect more individual support and attention from their manager. Their expectation of individual training plans and six-monthly feedback sessions contrast with the more standardised development processes, annual appraisals and classroom-based training experienced by earlier generations. Quite the HR challenge!
Workplace culture – this is being given increasing weight by younger employees, with 90% researching a company’s culture before joining. Millennials were also shown to value a more social workplace, with 30% saying that a social outing with their colleagues was the most important part of their induction at a new job and 75% also considered an engaging and fun workplace an important part of their job. This could perhaps put them at odds with colleagues expecting a more formal and traditional employment setting and atmosphere.
But how much of these sources of tension will remain post-Coronavirus? Will lockdown, and the extended time for personal reflection and demands for very different working practices, have impacted expectations and perspectives? This situation may have forced Boomers and Generation X to use technology more – has it left them embracing the concept or keen for a return to the face to face? And have the enforced limits around social interaction cemented the views of those Millennials and Generation Z who previously championed remote working? Or are they now more appreciative of the value of a shared ‘workplace’? The blurring of the lines between work and home that we’re all currently experiencing will hopefully give every generation a better appreciation of the different challenges faced by their work colleagues and of the skills, value and opinions that we can all bring to the table, whatever our age.
A WPG we work with organisations across a variety of sectors on selection and recruitment practices that help to build these diverse teams. So, we’d love to hear your examples of how multi-generational workforces have collaborated during this Coronavirus crisis. Please do get in touch.