How can organisations support all generations at work?
By Jo Faragher on 25 January 2023
It’s generally accepted that there are five generations in the workplace: so-called ‘traditionalists’ (born before 1945); baby boomers (1946-1964); Gen X (1965-1980); millennials (1981-1996) and Gen Z (1997-2012). And while they’re not quite storming our offices yet, it won’t be too long before a sixth, Generation Alpha (born in 2010), are on organisations’ recruitment radar. Each generation is subject to its own set of stereotypes and assumptions, but responding to the broad needs of all ages of workers by being more age-inclusive really pays off.
Some observers have described a trend known as “the great unretirement”, where older generations are heading back into the world of work because they’re generally healthier and need financial support with the cost of living. “We’re already seeing how different generations have drastically different priorities, from working policies to employee benefits. And every generation, and every individual, will have different priorities and different perspectives of what a good place to work will offer their employees,” says Holly Smith, diversity, equity and inclusion partner at HR software company Personio. “Flexible frameworks implemented throughout the business will ensure that every employee and their individual needs are seen and supported, in turn reducing the likelihood of conflict and friction. We also know preferences aren’t static, they evolve over time, and so flexible frameworks better accommodate this.”
Tailor benefits and activities
Ally Fekaiki, CEO and founder of Juno, points out that by 2025, Gen Z will make up around 30% of the global workforce, just as thousands of older workers are delaying retirement. He agrees that a one-size-fits-all solution will not work in a five-generation workplace. “The ideal solution is to expand benefits offerings, and to tailor schemes so that staff can choose the benefits that make the biggest difference to them,” he says. Gen Z tend to care about whether their employer is socially responsible, so may seek an organisation where they can donate some of their pay to a chosen charity or take part in volunteering opportunities. “Given varying working preferences, employers must also consider how work cultures can be made inclusive of every age group,” he adds. “This might be varying team socials between post-work drinks at the local office pub, and remote daytime options. Forums for non-work related conversations can also help distributed teams feel connected, and proper rewards systems can help ensure staff feel recognised – even when they’re not seen.”
Financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown was recently recognised as an Age Inclusive Employer by anti-age discrimination organisation 55/Redefined. 55/Redefined found in a survey that 65% of older workers felt age worked against them when applying for jobs, even though they were keen to stay in the workplace. Hargreaves Lansdown makes use of inclusive policies to support multiple generations at work, says Abi Taylor, Head of Recruitment. For example, a menopause and menstruation policy details support employees can expect from the company when affected by symptoms of either. Flexible working policies are not just targeted at parents, she adds. “We understand that all people will have different commitments, whether it’s the morning school run or needing to leave early to let the plumber in to fix the boiler,” Taylor says. “As part of our commitment to supporting our employees to achieve a balance between work and other life commitments, we accommodate flexible working arrangements wherever possible.” All policies are reviewed at least once a year, more often if an issue arises, and are always considered through an inclusion and diversity lens.
Vital candidate pool
Dr Emily Andrews, Deputy Director for Work at the Centre for Ageing Better, says organisations overlook older workers at their peril in the current labour market. “For employers today facing urgent skills and labour shortages, workers in their 50s and 60s can be a vital, and often overlooked, group who could be key to filling these gaps. Front-line work environments must become age-inclusive to harness everything that the growing pool of older workers can offer, and make the best offer possible to their older customers,” she advises. Sectors such as hospitality could be limiting their talent pool by recruiting solely from certain age groups. She adds: “Firms with a 10% higher share of workers aged 50 and over are 1.1% more productive, according to OECD analysis, because older workers usually offer extensive experience alongside lower job turnover.” Furthermore, being more age inclusive helps to address age-based prejudice felt by many older workers, and enables them to share knowledge with younger colleagues. The Centre’s Age-Friendly Employer pledge is a nationwide programme for employers who recognise the importance and value of older workers. “Signing up to the pledge makes conversations about harnessing the potential of older workers a business priority and encourages employers to reflect on how existing internal policies and practices may impact employees in their 50s and 60s,” explains Dr Andrews. Pledged employers receive a monthly newsletter with case studies and resources that can progress their age-friendly journey and receive invites to online and events webinars to learn more about age-inclusivity at work.
That said, discussions around age at work can tend to focus on how employers can support older workers, but it’s crucial not to forget that younger workers entering the workforce could face their own challenges, particularly in the post-pandemic era. HR technology company HiBob conducted research last year with venture fund Eight Roads which revealed that many tech companies were failing to invest and engage their younger workers and were at risk of losing them. Among 20 to 30-year-olds, the chief concerns were fears for job security, that their experience of work was below their expectations, and there were often tensions arising from new flexible working models. “Over half of respondents put job fears down to the economic downturn – the first they’ve ever experienced. They also blamed poor people skills at management level for bad workplace experience, and while most young workers said they liked and benefited from flexible work models, many stated that not being in the office hindered engagement and working relationships,” explains Ze’ev Rozov, chief operating officer. “In today’s uncertain market environment, companies need to pay immediate attention to engaging and investing in their talent, training up their managers to cope with managing people of all ages – but particularly millennials – in order to retain and develop the high performers who will be fundamental to their success in the long term.”
Job security and confidence
Rozov advises that companies focus on these concerns in order to boost retention, in particular building a strong co-worker/manager relationship so these employees feel secure. Introducing targeted programs for managers to help them be better able to develop young talent will go a long way towards retaining and giving this group of young workers a sense of stability and belonging,” he adds. “It’s essential to create a culture built on continuous learning and provide them with equitable opportunities for further growth. Regular feedback is key as opposed to annual appraisals as it shows you care about their development and progression.” Rozov believes that younger workers are “one of the most open-minded generations to date”, so will expect their employer to promote diversity and inclusion, rather than merely pay it lip service. They’ll also expect to see authentic role models in their leaders, or “versions of themselves” that show they can rise through the ranks. Flexible work may take on a different guise for this generation, says Rosov: “As a generation that grew up with the world at their fingertips, location doesn’t carry the same importance anymore. Leading companies like Google and Facebook understand this and allow their employees to work remotely or outside conventional 9-5 office hours. For some flexibility is having the freedom to go to the gym in the middle of the day or leave early to attend to family care commitments without judgement or penalty to their careers. For others it’s being able to choose how often they work from the office, and for some it is about productivity being judged on output not hours worked. When offering flexible working practices, employers also need to think out of the box.”
Lucy O’Brien, head of talent and ecosystem at Eight Roads, believes the seismic changes in the workplace during the past few years mean business leaders must get better at responding to young people’s needs. “Generation Z are the future leaders of this industry and so it’s critical that we listen and respond to changing trends,” she says, referring to the survey figures above. “An important backdrop to this is that the skills gap continues to widen – not helped by mature, more experienced professionals starting to vote out of the workplace, largely due to the rise and normalisation of remote working prompting alternative lifestyle decisions. These are all points that highlight the importance of developing and nurturing the younger generation of this important ecosystem.”
Her advice for organisations on becoming more age-inclusive would be useful for managers looking to recruit and retain across all generations. She concludes: “Creating an environment that addresses these issues, and provides the ultimate in psychological safety, coupled with the right leadership/inspiration and guidance to manage careers and personal development are key as is positive role modelling from leaders across the organisation.” Some companies within Eight Roads’ portfolios allow charity volunteering alongside mental health and wellbeing consultations, for example, or use surveys to check on job satisfaction. She adds: “Continually developing leaders to meet these needs/standards, whilst implementing a broader set of initiatives to promote a sense of community in the workplace will continue to be important as we start to address some of these issues across the ecosystem.”
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