Today’s workforce is made up of multi-generations of workers, from school leavers through to people working into their 70s. The workforce is also ageing with people living longer and retiring later.
A report by the Centre for Ageing Better highlighted that the number of workers aged 50 and over in the UK stands at 10.4 million – an increase of 2.4 million in the last decade. This is equivalent to nearly a third of the UK workforce and is a proportion set to grow.
At the other end of the scale, a report from Manpower ii suggests by 2020 Millennials – those reaching adulthood in the early 21st Century – will make up a third of the workforce, while ‘Generation Z’, those aged 20 and younger, will make up 24%.
How companies manage multi-generation workers and ensure they all thrive at work is a huge challenge. It’s an issue high on the agenda for many HR Directors as they try to satisfy the needs of a diverse workforce in terms of working policies and benefits provision.
The Government also recognises this as a growing concern and has set up an all-party parliamentary group for longevity to focus on the positives of an ageing UK population.
There is, however, a major opportunity for companies to re-think their working environment now and make changes that better support workers at different stages in their career.
Why flexible working could be a solution
Flexible working has been a hot topic in recent years since all employees now have a legal right to ask for flexible working. Offering greater flexibility around the working week is one area where HR Directors can create a level playing field across the generations.
Yet it’s important to recognise that it’s also an area of a working life where different generations are likely to have differing views which can create tensions – which must be considered when developing policies.
For employees in their 50s and 60s, the desire for flexible working can be mystifying. When this age group started work, it just wasn’t an option. The working day was structured around the traditional nine to five, people dressed in suits and work was far more formal than today.
But Millennials see things differently. In one study younger employees were asked to pick the top two factors that motivate them to stay at their jobs. Flexibility was the top choice, chosen by 59%. It was followed by proximity (43%), enjoyable work (29%) and work environment (27%).
This includes not just where they work– home, or perhaps a local café or library – but the way they dress at work. They don’t want to be forced into suits and ties.
Expectation for flexibility is ingrained in Millennials, and in the generations after them. Millennials and Generation Z have grown up with technology that allows them to work from anywhere, any time.
But introducing more flexibility and a better work-life balance can suit every generation. Research by Business in the Community has shown that by ages 55-59, nearly 40% of workers want to reduce their working hours.
Many might be supporting ageing parents, as well as children. Allowing flexible work patterns can be a good way to keep them in the workforce and motivate them. And for the older generation, who could be working well into their 70s, flexible working can help sustain a long career.
How do you embed a flexible working culture?
Introducing formal policies around flexible working is crucial. Companies could look at introducing part-time working, flexible hours or working from home part of the week. Offering sabbaticals for long-serving workers is also another option.
More companies are recognising the value of sabbaticals, including Punter Southall Aspire. One of our managing directors, Alan Morahanvii took a sabbatical last year after 40 years of working – realising that time away from the business to mentally and physically de-clutter would be a big benefit.
Companies also need to give people the tools to be able to work flexibly. For example, equip employees with laptops, not desktops. Or ensure that the intranet and any other resources Communicating and initiating conversations in the workplace around flexible working and letting employees know what is expected of them is necessary for it to be a success.
Leaders and senior staff must set the tone and boundaries around flexible working, and not just assume that people will know what is acceptable or not.
To better manage a diverse workforce HR Directors must recognise that the different generations may work differently and may have different expectations. Flexible working is one area where they can start to create a more cohesive working culture that satisfies the needs of the entire workforce.