Multigenerational workplace

The United Kingdom’s population is ageing. According to Acas, there will be an estimated 27 million people over the age of 50 living in this country by the year 2030. It’s also important to note that the state pension age will increase to 66 years old for both men and women by October 2020. The government is also planning further increases, which will raise the state pension age from 66 to 67 between 2026 and 2028.

An ageing population means that employers are increasingly working with an older workforce while also supporting employees at the start of their careers who have very different needs. The multigenerational workplace is positive for both managers and employees, but there are some things to consider when navigating this new face of work including how each generation experiences the workplace differently.

Baby Boomers (1946–1964)

Baby boomers tend to be very adept at change and are also quite optimistic and positive in general. Many feel defined by their job and also tend to have mixed attitudes towards authority, hierarchies and management. Typically, baby boomers have spent their careers working long hours and have been socially primed for successful careers. They may place less emphasis on work-life balance than their younger colleagues.

Generation X-ers (1965–1979)

Generation X-ers tend to be comfortable with change and often demonstrate a high degree of self reliance. Employees from this generation tend to be very flexible in how they work (such as remote working or in an office) and have a strong desire for independence. They have also grown up knowing that ‘a job for life’ is no longer the norm and are therefore adept at changing careers a number of times during their working lives. Generation X-ers place an emphasis on work-life balance, but are also often willing to put in long hours to achieve their career goals.

Generation Y-ers (1980–1994)

Generation Y-ers grew up during a time of great financial growth and material success. They tend to be quite savvy about gadgets and technology and are generally very active social networkers. Comfortable with multi-tasking, Generation Y-ers tend to be confident, self-expressive, liberal, and open to change. They place an emphasis on work-life balance and may expect to receive rewards for a job well done. They are also likely people who want to see a tangible result from the tasks that they are asked to undertake.

Generation Z (1995 – onwards)

Generation Z-ers, sometimes referred to as millennials, are people in the earlier stages of their careers, and some feel the need to progress quickly in their field. Many millennials are also managing student debt, finding accommodation outside of their parents’ home, dealing with peer pressure, and early-adulthood relationships. They are likely to value work-life balance and may choose their employer as to the possibilities for having a life outside of work. Tech-savvy and often energised by change, millennials can be very ambitious and may leave their organisation if they don’t see opportunities for progression in the very short term.

Tips for navigating the multigenerational workforce

Acknowledge that generations differ but each have their strengths

Every generation has its strengths and for this reason, cross-mentoring is not only possible, but well worth developing in any multigenerational workplace. Boomers, for example, have a lot to offer younger colleagues given their experience of work and life. Generation X-ers, who tend to be good at isolating new opportunities and working independently towards a goal, can be helpful mentors to both Generation Y-ers and baby boomers who want to learn new skills.

Recognise that each generation has its own challenges

For example, those boomers who haven’t yet retired are now winding up their careers, and may need support with retirement planning, savings, and dealing with the emotional impact of leaving work. People in the Generation X and Generation Y categories may be raising a family, or starting to think about doing so, so it’s important that they have access to family-friendly support in the workplace. Generation Z employees, whilst at the start of the careers, may also be dealing with student debt, finding accommodation outside of the family home, and managing peer pressure. Employers which support their people according to their life stage will see a happier, and more productive, workforce.

Acknowledge that communication preferences can differ across generations

It isn’t always possible to change our style of communication to suit one individual within a team but keeping each generation’s preferences in mind can help you to tailor important messages in the right way.

  • Because baby boomers tend to view business relationships as being linked to social relationships, too much formality can create barriers. Baby boomers usually prefer informal discussions, face-to-face catch ups, or phone calls.
  • Generation X-ers prefer communication at work to be direct and immediate so they may rely more on email than waiting for meetings. ‘Corporate speak’ also tends to be viewed with suspicion by this generation, so keeping it clear, simple and direct often gets the best results.
  • Generation Y-ers prefer to communicate either collaboratively (in team meetings) or digitally (via email, text, or blogs for example.) They respond well to positive messages which are clear and direct but not mired in overly-corporate language.
  • Generation Z-ers tend to embrace difference more so than boomers. They may be more cautious, and prefer to see authority figures as not necessarily always right.

Acknowledge that different generations learn differently

Learning is an ongoing requirement in any role but when training employees, keep in mind that each generation may have different learning styles and needs.

  • Baby boomers, being goal-orientated, tend to like to learn new things by being taught the basics and left to get on to teach themselves
  • Generation X-ers tend to like to learn in group situations with their peers, but as they’re usually very independent, they may also appreciate being given information and left to learn more on their own.
  • Generation Y-ers prefer to see the context and value of any training (“what’s in it for me?”) and e-learning can offer quick results (seeing progress in real time is especially motivating for this generation).
  • Generation Z-ers tend to value being asked for their opinion, and often seek to make a tangible difference to the organisation within a short period of time.