What is an intergenerational workplace?

Courtney Wright, our Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, delves into what an intergenerational workplace is, the challenges that may arise, and how to overcome them.

Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of intergenerational workplaces and how to manage them effectively.

Over the last century, global life expectancy has almost doubled and is now above 70 years old. This significant change in the demographic of the population, along with the abolishment of the default retirement age in the UK in 2011, has meant a change in the age diversity of our workforce.

We now have five generations of people, working alongside each other, but who does this intergenerational workplace consist of and what does this mean for organisations?

Generations at a glance:

  • Gen Z (born 1997 – 2012) – also known as Zoomers, a play on words from the baby boomer generation
  • Millennials (1981 – 1996) – also known as Gen Y
  • Gen X (1965 – 1980)
  • Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964) – the generation born during the post World War II baby boom
  • Silent Generation (1928 – 1945) – this generation gets its name from being raised during a period of economic depression

You can check out our Multigenerations in the Workplace factsheet which explores the priorities and communication preferences of these five different generations in more detail.

What intergenerational issues in the workplace may occur?

As society has gone through many political, legal, economic, social and technological changes over this past century, these five generations of people have experienced contrasting external factors at play when entering the workforce.

Therefore, it’s no surprise intergenerational conflict in the workplace may occur as people with different views, motivators, work expectations and communication styles work alongside each other.

Difference in views

A difference in views may be particularly noticeable in regards to attitudes to work e.g. work-life balance, location of work and management styles.

In recent years, there’s been an increase in focus on the employee experience for organisations and older generations may not have seen this treated as a priority before. We can also see this in the inclusion and diversity space too.

When searching for jobs, younger generations see good inclusion and diversity practices as essential rather than something that’s nice to do.

Younger generations are more likely to have had access to spaces designed with these conversations in mind, whilst older generations may not have had the opportunity, or the terminology, to share their opinions and learn from each other in the workplace.

Creating a safe space, where open and honest conversations are valued, recognising people from all generations may have different starting points, is key to bringing a multigenerational workforce on an inclusion journey together.

Various work expectations

Variation in experience throughout the employee lifecycle can also have an impact on the expectations of different generations when they join new organisations.

As there has been more research, knowledge sharing and increased awareness of best practice in the field of organisational development, lots of employees are experiencing huge organisational change.

From the style of interview questions at recruitment, to what’s available in employee benefits packages, to the way performance is evaluated, within a multigenerational workforce there will be a wide range of contrasting experiences of working life.

A lack of understanding

This combination of different views and different expectations can result in a lack of understanding between colleagues and a generational disconnect.

Some people may not understand why their colleagues are pushing for change within an organisation, and others may not understand why their colleagues are reluctant to change ways of working that have been in place for years. Clarity around organisational decision making is important in combatting this.

Stereotypes

Whilst it can be helpful to broadly define the different generations in the workplace and everyday life, it’s important we don’t fall into the trap of stereotyping.

Often age is a characteristic that gets overlooked when it comes to inclusion, but we see harmful stereotypes come into play across all generations.

We see these tropes exacerbated in the media, with younger generations portrayed as ‘sensitive snowflakes’, and older generations as ‘stuck in their ways’.

This plays into our biases and reinforces those generational divides. Microaggressions are common in society and in our workplaces, and age is no exception.

How many of the following examples seem familiar to you?

  • ‘Gen Z are always glued to their phones’
  • Using the term ‘boomer’ as an insult
  • Job adverts describing their culture as ‘young and vibrant’
  • Younger co-workers being spoken over
  • Jokes about older people not being able to use technology
  • ‘Millennials are entitled’

Communication struggles

Communication is key to a successful organisation, and yet this is where we see some of the biggest generational divides.

Digital communication is now at the forefront of most organisations, and rapid investment and expansion in technology have meant there are more ways to communicate than ever before.

It’s important that we recognise that for some employees, especially those who are long-serving within their organisation, communication styles will have changed multiple times during their working life.

It’s also important to recognise that not everyone from younger generations knows how to use new platforms, or apps that are introduced, and assumptions that they do may lead to people feeling uncomfortable asking for help or support.

It’s not just the method of communication that poses a struggle, but the tone of voice and level of formality may also differ between generations. It’s also important to consider evolving language, especially when we consider changes in terminology used in the inclusion and diversity space.

There may also be generational differences between slang used by younger generations, and business acronyms or jargon used by older generations, so the words we use regularly when communicating can contribute to a generational divide.

The benefits of a multigenerational workplace

Even though there are multiple challenges we encounter when managing a multigenerational workforce, there is a clear business case for managing intergenerational workplaces effectively, and harnessing the learning to improve our organisations.

Age diversity within our workplace leads to the diversity of perspective, better decision making and increased opportunities to develop our workforce.

Diversity of perspective

We know that having a diverse workplace also allows us to be more representative of our clients, customers and colleagues. Having representation from multiple generations contributes to the diversity of thought and helps us to see different perspectives and reflect on different life experiences.

Problem Solving

Having a multigenerational workforce means we benefit from having a mixture of fresh innovation and ideas, balanced with the wisdom and learning from those employees with years of experience.

We solve problems better when we are challenged, and healthy conflict leads to better decision making. The different challenges that generations have faced throughout their lives, will help us better identify barriers in situations, and also be better equipped to consider the impact of potential solutions too.

Opportunities to learn & develop

A key benefit of a multigenerational workforce is the potential for knowledge sharing. Longer serving employees can help younger generations understand the context of your organisation and ensure that industry knowledge is passed down.

Younger generations can bring new ideas, skills and methods to the workplace, and educate their co-workers on these. Being willing to understand, listen and learn from our colleagues from different generations to us helps increase empathy. There’s always more we can learn from each other!

Tips for managing intergenerational workforces

Effectively managing your intergenerational workforce is all about reflecting on the needs and expectations of all generations, throughout the employee lifecycle.

Make sure your benefits are suitable for all generations

Think about what will appeal to different generations – are they looking for health and wellbeing perks, career development opportunities, volunteering opportunities, social events or financial benefits?

Tailoring your package to think about all ages, will mean you attract a more diverse workforce initially, but you also have a better chance of reduced turnover too.

A best practice approach is a pick and mix style of benefits, where employees can choose, from a selection provided, what works best for them and their lifestyle.

Be inclusive and unbiased

Think about inclusivity even from the recruitment stage. Dates of education or employment on CVs can be a giveaway as to a person’s age and naturally lead to bias in hiring manager’s decisions.

Can you adapt your hiring process to be more neutral, so that those on recruitment panels don’t have access to some of this demographic information?

Listen

Hear the voices of different generations within your workforce. As you would with other characteristics, find out what your employees are thinking.

You could do this by including age, along with other diversity data, in your employee surveys. This would allow you to analyse results through the lens of looking at how different generations are impacted.

Encourage a variety of communication styles

As a society, and within our workplaces, there’s an increasing understanding of acknowledging the importance of neurodiversity and the different ways in which all our brains work.

This means there’s no one ‘right way’ of communicating that fits everyone. It’s best not to make assumptions around communication styles, and instead, treat people as individuals.

When you’re thinking about organisation-wide communications, reflect on how you’re getting that message out. Is the content engaging and accessible to all ages?

Be understanding of each individual

Be accommodating to the needs of individuals, and take a flexible approach both to working patterns and working styles.

As employees get older, they may have additional caring responsibilities or changes in health. It’s important to check in regularly with your employees about any additional support they might need, and support flexible working where possible.

Create opportunities for learning

Think about setting up cross-generational mentoring schemes. Older generations will have a wealth of skills and knowledge to draw upon, whereas younger generations are likely to be more confident in the knowledge of current trends, or recent technological advancements.

Conduct a training needs analysis, and consider where cross-generational collaboration may enhance your training programme.

Ensure your inclusion and diversity initiatives, such as training sessions on unconscious bias or microaggressions, take age into account as a characteristic. Encouraging people to share their own personal experiences, as part of these sessions, or as a wider campaign, can help build empathy and understanding between generations.

How Inclusive Employers can help generations work together

Ultimately, managing an intergenerational workforce is all about valuing and understanding difference.

If you’d like to find out more, come along to our Intergenerational Working webinar at 11am, 22 April 2022.

We can also support you to effectively manage your intergenerational workforce through training opportunities.

If you’re a member, have a chat to your account manager about the options and available and if you’re not a member but interested in finding out more please get in touch through our enquiry form.