TalentTalent ManagementWinning the generation game

Winning the generation game

For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, five generations of employees are working side by side, bringing new challenges and opportunities for employers, but what are these?

We are working longer than ever before. Improved living standards, deflating pension pots and legal protection against age discrimination have nudged the retirement age up. With people now working well into their 70s and beyond, the age profile of many organisations has been stretched. So what impact is this having on the workplace and how should employers respond? We commissioned YouGov to carry out a survey of middle market businesses to find out.

Employers value a multi-generational workforce but…

On the upside, two-thirds of employers said that an age-diverse workforce helped their company to have a more comprehensive skill set and knowledge base. More than seven in ten felt that a multi-generational workforce brought contrasting views to their organisation.

However, over half said it was more challenging to manage employees in an age-diverse workforce, and four in ten companies expressed concern that there was an increased risk of conflict.

It’s important to challenge these assumptions. There is absolutely no reason why having five generations under one roof should have to create friction or management headaches. When managed in the right way, a five-generation workforce will give your organisation a competitive edge.

Mobilising the five-generation workforce

RSM has recently published a report entitled New Forces at Work which challenges employers to take a new approach to people management and incentivisation. Below are five things to consider:

Work out your age profile – It’s critical that your management team gets a clear picture of the age profile of your business, and how this might change over the short and long term. This will ensure those at the top understand why your existing approach to people management may need to evolve. A regular workforce audit will reveal how many employees fall into each generational group and highlight emerging trends. However, you will need to remember that under the new General Data Protection Regulation you’ll need to tell your employees why you’re collecting their personal data and how this information will be stored.

Create an inclusive culture – One of the best ways to unlock the potential of your five-generation workforce is to create an inclusive and dynamic culture. Your CEO should send a clear message that your business works best when all voices are heard, understood and respected. Those at the top should make sure their behaviours don’t contradict this message. Your commitment to inclusion should be repeated on your website, intranet and staff handbook, as well as in job descriptions and onboarding materials. This will give you the best chance of developing policies and reward programmes that foster positive attitudes among existing employees, and to attract people who share these values.

Go beyond stereotypes – It might be tempting to think that millennials are from Mars and baby boomers are from Venus, but you need to be careful not to pigeonhole different generations and make assumptions about their preferences. The only way you’ll find out what your workforce wants is to ask them. Run a regular employee engagement survey to understand what your people think about your organisation and what will motivate them to do a good job. Be prepared to hear more negatives than positives. You’re naturally going to be defensive, but it’s important you acknowledge what your employees have told you and commit to act, whatever the results may be.

Find similarities and celebrate differences – The recent collision of stagnant wage growth and soaring living costs has toppled the long-held belief that each generation should have a better life than the one that came before. Tensions have begun to rise. Your organisation must find ways to strengthen inter-generational relationships. Consider introducing reverse mentoring to allow younger generations to share their ideas and perspectives with older employees. It’s also a good idea to introduce flexible development programmes to give your people the chance to progress or succeed, whatever their age and goals. Likewise, inclusive recognition and reward options will help you engage and incentivise all generations across your organisation.

Watch out for age discrimination – With increased age diversity in the workplace, the potential for age discrimination claims has increased. To protect your organisation, you must make sure your policies, procedures and practices don’t help one generation while alienating others. For example, you could face claims of age discrimination if you rule that someone needs a certain level of experience before they can be promoted. You must also tackle unconscious biases. Generalisations and assumptions about generations – both positive and negative – can influence your decisions and lead to claims of age discrimination. Training is a useful way to encourage people to challenge their preconceptions and build awareness about risk areas.

Implementing the cultural shift

The diversity of ideas, experience and skills can be harnessed to help you broaden your knowledge base, to better understand and serve your customers and ultimately to unlock growth. But taking advantage of those benefits will depend on your company’s ability to create a culture where everyone feels heard, valued and understood.


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