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Five generations, one work place – Can we all work together?

Contents Five generations, one work place – Can we all work together?


How should you relate to employees of different age groups?


How do motivate different generations and to encourage their sharing of knowledge?


How will this affect the future of recruitment?


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Recent news that, by 2020, there will be five generations in the workplace which will have a significant impact on companies’ approach to Human Resources requirements.


Research published by analysts such as Dan Schawbel, Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, which specialises in Gen Y, writing for Time and Forbes magazines, for example, and books such as “The Gen Z Effect” by Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen have brought this coming reality to the forefront of employers stratagem. People are living longer, delaying retirement for a number of reasons, and re-entering the workforce after time away. Firms have been confronted with a plethora of unanswered questions such as; how should firms manage employees from such diverse generations, how to motivate different generations working together, and what is the commercial upside to having five different generations working in harmony? The language used to describe the different generations is becoming commonplace. While sweeping descriptions of generations are not entirely representative, these are the five groups currently in the workforce:

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Traditional Generation Born before circa 1945


These more experienced employees often have a respect for the conventional rules, tend towards conformity and come from a generation where frugality and austerity are virtues. This generation has not grown up with access to technology and has learned to work without the aid of computing and digital developments.

Baby-boomers Born between circa 1945 and the mid-1960s

Baby-boomers, the post-war generation, have experienced financial, educational and gender liberation moreso than any other generation, and have reaped the economic reward. They carry the reputation of being workaholics, are viewed as inherently optimistic, but also quietly seeking personal gratification. Technology is more accessible to this generation, but a calculator and paper calendar are likely also to be on their desk.

Gen X Born between mid-1960s and early 1980s

As a result of Baby-boomer working parents, this generation has a reputation of self-reliance. They are often results-oriented yet fun. Less traditional upbringing has resulted in marriage and children later in life, and devoting more to a company. They are among the more entrepreneurial generations.

Gen Y / Millennials Born between early 1980s and 1995

Gen Y is now the majority workforce, since 2013. Having grown up with technology in the household, they have the capacity for being tech savvy. Research brands them as socially conscious, competitive and confident. In Human Resource terms, companies are favouring this group when recruiting; they are viewed as a lynchpin in a fivegeneration workplace.

Gen Z or Linkster / Facebook Generation Born after circa 1995

The youngest group in the workforce is extremely techno-savvy. This generation brings a host of new experience to the table; instant messaging is a preferred mode of communication, believing email is outdated. The ubiquity of technology has resulted in protective parents; monitoring by adults is often seen as positive means of protection. This generation is often represented as confident, happy and secure; Team players, who like to engage in community service activities.

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How should you relate to employees of different age groups?


Generational stereotypes are often quoted with little thought: The Baby Boomer mystified by Facebook; the Millennial who wears flip-flops in the office; the Traditionalist who seemingly won’t ever retire; the cynical Gen Xer who’s only out for themselves; and the Gen Linkster / Facebook who appears to be surgically attached to their smartphone. However, research shows that individuals born in Gen Y and beyond have different styles from their predecessors; it has been a cultural revolutionary shift. Dan Schawbel suggests when a Millennial is using a smartphone in a meeting, they may be multitasking, rather than disengaged or rude. They may be resented by their older colleagues, but typically they respect them and want to learn from them. That explains millennials’ constant pleas for feedback, says Dan Schawbel. But how can the Traditional Generation relate to other generation groups? According to Management Consulting firm Penna organisations need to: 1. Throw

out all your assumptions

You may think older workers are harder workers or that they are difficult to train. Get rid of your stereotypes. Your older workers are individuals just like everyone else in your group. Treat them as such. 2. Remember

the range of ages

You wouldn’t treat a seasoned manager of 35 the same as a 21-year old right out of college. Don’t think the 15-year gap is any less in your older workers. A worker at 55 and a worker at 70 have different goals and needs. As a manager, you may need to look at groups getting ready to retire (55–62), retirement age and still working (62–70), and older workers who want to keep active or who need to work (70+). Each group presents different management challenges.

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3. Communicate,

communicate, and communicate


Don’t assume that the older worker knows what you expect of them. They might not have the same background as you. Be very clear what you want done and what the measurements of completion and of success will be. “Bill, take care of that for me” is not enough. Be more explicit, “Bill, I need you to prepare the department’s budget for the next fiscal year. Use the numbers from last year and add 10% on everything except training, which should go up 15%. I need it by Tuesday”. 4. Value

their life experience

Your older workers have been around. They have seen a lot. They have done a lot. Recognize the value of this experience. Learn from it. Encourage the younger members of your team to learn from it. The lessons from the “school of hard knocks” are invaluable. 5. Train


Older workers need training as much as younger workers – just as much, just as often. The subject of the training may be different, but the need is the same. And don’t believe that older workers can’t be trained. They are just as receptive as their younger peers. 6.

Meet their security needs

Older workers probably need benefits more than the younger workers. They need medical coverage, vision care, and financial planning. Make sure your company’s benefits plan meets their needs too. 7.

Motivate them

Any manager’s key job is to motivate their employees. Older workers have different motivational “hot buttons” than their younger counterparts. Opportunity for advancement is probably less important than the recognition of a job well done, but see step #1 above. 8. You

don’t have to “be the boss”

The older workers grew up in a hierarchical society. They know you are the boss. Most of them were bosses at some point too. Get on with leading the department and don’t waste time posturing. It won’t impress them anyway. They’ve seen it all before.

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Be flexible

Your older workers, depending on age group (see #2 above) may want flexible hours or a shorter work week. For those of them that need it, be willing to be flexible. You need their talent and technical skill so do what you need to keep it available. Do not, however, assume that all older workers want to go home early. Some may be motivated by working the same long, hard hours that they have always done. 10. Use


them as mentors

Let them coach and encourage the younger workers. Most older workers have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they would love to pass on. Give them the opportunity to do so and your entire organization will benefit. The knowledge and talent that will be lost due to the retirement of the older generations without appropriate transition among generations could be financially costly to companies. The employees coming into the labour force (Gen Y) are powerful in numbers and will be needed to make up for the shortage due to the retirement of the Traditional and the Baby Boomers. If employers don’t help breakdown communication barriers now, they will risk finding themselves short of talented workers when they are really needed.

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How To motivate different generations and to encourage their sharing of knowledge? Whether this multi-generational workplace feels happy and productive or challenging and stressful is, in large part, up to their immediate manager. How do you motivate someone much older or much younger than you? How can you do to encourage employees of different generations to share their knowledge? Since the financial crisis of 2008 and people living longer and therefore delaying retiring, it has become more common to see someone younger managing someone older. This can lead to tension on both sides. Why am I being bossed around by someone without a lot of experience? On the other hand, maybe the younger person feels insecure and wonders: how do I do this? Jeanne C. Meister, a founding partner of Future Workplace, a human resources consultancy and the co-author of “The 2020 Workplace” suggests some ways to encourage different generations to work collaboratively:

Do’s • Experiment with mixed-age teams and reverse mentoring programs that enable older, experienced workers to interact with and learn from younger hires. • Develop incentive plans that reflect where your employees are in their lives. • Conduct regular Human Resources surveys to get a pulse on your employees’ demographics and needs.

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Don’ts • Bother with generation-based employee affinity groups – they generally reinforce stereotypes. • Act like a top-down manager – forge partnerships with employees of different ages and encourage them to share their opinions. • Assume you already know how to motivate employees who are older or younger – ask them what they want out of their professional lives. There is an assumption about the older workers that they are less adaptable and less able to grasp new ideas or technologies. The older workers are often excluded from the training opportunities as employer normally calculates the return on investment. The invested training has to offset against the likely gains from the improved skills over the time. The similar concern may surround the younger workers who may be perceived as being early on in their career and more likely to change jobs in the near future. The benefits from in-house Mentoring Programmes are far reaching. By working with Managers, the Talent Management group will identify and train Mentors in each business unit as well as develop the system to keep track of measurable impact of such programme. This programme would relate directly to job function and trainees would be provided with one-on-one consultative style coaching related directly to the job function. This approach would ensure the high performance and high-level of engagement of the new employee, especially throughout the On-Boarding phase. The target group for these roles would be older workers, which will also add to their job satisfaction and engagement with the company.

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How will this affect the future of recruitment?


The recruitment industry has undergone massive change over the last 20 years with the growth of the internet and social media and, therefore, changing the way people stay connected to jobs. In light of these developments, a numbers of firms are asking; how can we better connect with a new generation? How do we retain staff as loyalty becomes a thing of the past? Many of the changes brought by technology haven’t really changed the recruitment process but made it easier to access and communicate with potential candidates. Social media is heavily used by most financial services organisations although some do it better than others. However, it is accepted that all firms need a credible social media strategy to attract the best candidates. In future, firms that are more creative with social media will give themselves a competitive advantage to attract the best talent, as opposed to a pile of inappropriate applicants, which will create more work. As Gen X move into more senior management positions and Gen Y increase in numbers, the biggest change to business will be more interim centric. The combination of the internet and the change in employee values to a more independent control over their careers could lead to spike in freelance workers. Therefore, HR and recruitment teams will need to evolve into a centre of knowledge of who can deliver when work needs to be achieved and potentially a higher understating of the business requirements. This could lead to unprecedented change on how graduate programmes are structured. For example, graduates could ‘register’ with a number of firms and develop their network of interim job opportunities. In the long term, as Gen Y and Z become the biggest groups in the work force firms will need to create and sell a culture that they want to work in. What will be the ‘normal’? Will the term career be replaced by experience? Will permanent contractors be a thing of the past? How will recruiters help businesses stand out?

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Business need to accept the younger generation has no desire to stay working for one company over an extended period of time. Therefore, the traditional concept of judging an individual’s skill by how long they have stayed at one company will be a concept of the past. Generation Y and Z are likely to have several jobs at the same time allowing them to develop and grow personally. This is obviously problematic when considering recruitment and retention strategies, especially for large firms that invest heavily into these programmes.


What is obvious and can’t be ignored is that expectations are changing. A good example is bonus-related pay. Daniel Pink (“The Surprising science of Motivation”, 2010) has proven in detailed research that “pay for performance” is ineffective in any environment apart from manual labour. Employees might want cash rewards but giving it to them will be demotivating and self-destructing. Will a bank be bold and innovative enough to change how they reward top performers to align with the younger generations’ expectations? The businesses that will succeed are the ones that will accept and understand what the younger generation want from their career which are very different from the previous generations. Perhaps asking new recruits “when are you planning to leave?” on their first day will become permissible. Such dramatic change will take a culture shift. Firms that are confident enough to allow their employees to take sabbaticals, for example, to experience personal growth and actively encourage mobility will be able to attract and retain the best talent. The majority of management techniques currently adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach, which had been suitable for an industrial / labourdriven place of work. We no longer live in such a world. While no organisation can entirely predict the future of generational change, the brave, innovative and bold who accept that the world of work will continue to evolve will give itself the best opportunity to maximise the potential of their current workforce, retain the top performers and attract the most talent individuals.

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