Strategy & LeadershipHR EffectivenessMaking a multi-generational culture work for your business

Making a multi-generational culture work for your business

Although we’re seeing more workers of different ages working together than ever before, it isn’t always plain sailing. Iain Thomson, Director of Incentives and Recognition at Sodexo Engage discusses the challenges that need addressing when managing employees across different age groups.

Let’s face it, the workplace has changed a lot over the years. Where you once had a bunch of fresh-faced grads, apprentices and juniors led by seasoned experts and professionals, you now have later-life career changes, over-50s who are interns, and CEOs in their mid-20s. It’s a different world out there, with career prospects far less dependent on age than before.

This is a great thing to see, but this new reality can create some challenges when it comes to making sure everyone feels engaged with the business. On the one hand, making sure the company is open to a broad range of employees is vital for success, but business leaders also need to understand the pitfalls to avoid when working with people from different age groups.

Do people want a boss who’s younger than they are?

For businesses that have a multi-generational workforce, one of the biggest hurdles is dealing with age gaps that conflict with job role. For example, if an older employee joins in a junior role, it’s entirely possible that their line manager or supervisor will be younger than they are. For this relationship to work, managers need to make sure that both people have mutual respect for one another’s contribution to the team.

Training is also a vital part of supporting this relationship, as it can giving both employees the chance to collaborate regardless of age. It’s a two-way street after all; an older employee in an entry-level role may lack industry knowledge, but they can make up for that with broader experience. This can often provide a great source of support and guidance for a younger member of staff and allow both employees to work together really well.

Different age, different work ethic

Another thing that companies need to think about when managing different generations in the workplace is how these employees approach work. Some may happy with a traditional nine to five while others may need to juggle work priorities with a child or elder care. Or maybe some are night owls, and some are early birds. Whatever the mindset, with different generations of employees working side by side, there’s bound to be a broad mix of all these things.

As a result, flexibility needs to be at the core of juggling all these different working attitudes. Giving staff the opportunity to start earlier or finish later will allow them to work at times that suit them. Providing opportunities for employees to work from home or remotely will also support staff that live far from the office and allow others to avoid costly fares during peak travel hours.

This can be supported with other benefits too. For example, employees with children can be offered childcare support or discounted cinema tickets, while older workers may prefer to have subsidised rail fare or private medical insurance.

The important thing is making sure that there is an equal spread of benefits and flexibility across the whole business. No single generation should receive more or less benefits than the other. By taking these factors into account, the business can better manage its multi-generational workforce.

Growing out of generations

But the simple truth is that an employee’s age doesn’t mean as much as it used to. Some employees in their thirties may be single and starting out on a whole new career, while those in their early twenties may be married with children and running their own business. As a result, companies need to forget about age and start thinking about their employees’ life stages instead.

Grouping employees into life stages can be far more effective than focussing purely on their date of birth, especially when it comes to benefits. Creating simple groups like ‘married with kids’ ‘long term relationship’ and ‘single’ will help companies to deliver the right benefits to the right people at the right time.

After all, people who fit into these different categories are likely to want similar benefits as their peers, regardless of their age. As a result, this approach will be much easier for employers to create benefits that people actually want, regardless of what generation they’re in.

And really, ‘generation’ is probably an outdated term to use in the workplace anyway, as it doesn’t reflect the diverse range of people that it’s meant to describe. Looking at life stages is a much better way to identify how to support each employee and address their particular needs. The result is that staff engagement and motivation will remain consistently high and strong collaboration will exist across the whole business, regardless of age.

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