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How to manage your multi-generational workforce: 3 top tips for leaders 

Look across the office (or virtual call) and you’ll likely find members of the ‘Silent Generation’ and Baby Boomers working alongside the emerging Generation Z.  

By 2050, there will be one person aged 65 and over for every two persons aged 20-64, according to data from the OECD. The same study stated that living standards across the globe would be ‘improved substantially’ by increased participation of older workers in employment.  

There are significant benefits to businesses too. Research has shown that an organisation with a 10% higher share of workers aged 50 and over is 1.1% more productive. A greater diversity of age is also linked to stronger retention of knowledge and enhanced talent pipelines, improving the continuity of operations.  

Are you leveraging the benefits of age diversity within your workforce strategy? In our latest blog, we dive into the multi-generational workforce and offer three top tips for leaders looking to leverage the skills and (varied) experience of their people.  

What is a multi-generational workforce?  

A multi-generational workforce is comprised of people from several generations. There are now five generations operating simultaneously, making today’s workforce the most diverse in age ever witnessed.  

These groups are broadly defined as:  

  • The Silent Generation: born 1928-1945  
  • Baby Boomers: born 1946-1964 
  • Generation X: born 1965-1980 
  • Millennials: born 1981-1996 
  • Generation Z: born 1997-2012 

What are the benefits of a multi-generational workforce?  

Diverse teams, including those with a wide range of ages and lived experience, can deliver tangible benefits to organisations. Create a space in which accrued knowledge intersects with energy, and creativity and innovation will often follow.  

Research indicates that companies with mixed-age teams see increased knowledge sharing (which prompted better problem-solving and decision-making). However, we’re also witnessing increasing intergenerational conflict, as workers resort to harmful stereotypes when they ‘fundamentally can’t relate to someone.’  

How can organisations overcome the differences that distance us? Here’s our tip tips for those leading a multi-generational workforce: 

 

1. Forget generational divides and focus on life stages.  

Our first tip for managing a multi-generational workforce? Throw out the pre-determined assumptions when it comes to differing generations. ‘The life course isn’t as synchronised as it once was’, and yet generational tags attempt to cram even more diversity into broad groupings. 

Organisations should instead focus on shaping za culture that acknowledges and supports a more diverse array of personal and professional needs, as rising life expectancy will mean workers experience a greater number of lifecycle stages throughout their career. 

Jon Mannall, EMEA Managing Director for Enterprise Solutions at Hays added: “There is enormous value in breaking down the stereotypes or biases that accompany rigid generational structures. When we shift from numbers to names, we put people back at the heart of every action and decision an organisation makes.  

“Naturally, this makes things more complex. The generational ‘buckets’ we have relied on for so long make it easy to assume needs and challenges, but the reality is they are no longer fit for purpose”. 

The good news for employers is that there seems to be more that unites than divides us. A recent study by McKinsey found that employees ‘of all ages’ are looking for many of the same things at work – and largely quit their jobs, or start somewhere new, for similar reasons. Both ‘Gen Zers’ and ‘boomers’, for example, cited lack of career development and advancement as a top reason for leaving their current position.  

Focus on the factors that matter across all ages and shape your value proposition – for both contingent workers and full-time employees – around these key ‘pull’ factors. Indeed, the same study by McKinsey concluded that the strongest strategies for attracting talent involve both hygiene factors such as competitive pay, and motivating factors such as meaningful work. 

Compensation, career development, flexibility and purpose are integral to any modern talent attraction, development and retention strategy.  

 

2. Create psychological safety amongst your teams.  

Respect and trust are the foundation of any effective team dynamic. But as the workforce becomes more diverse, not just across ages but also gender, race, religion, location and terms of engagement (e.g. platform workers and agency staff), it is more important than ever to ensure you are actively fostering a sense of psychological safety.  

Diverse teams are repeatedly linked with enhanced innovation and improved performance. However, research has shown that heterogenous teams often underperform relative to their homogenous counterparts. This is because people with similar backgrounds share norms and assumptions about how to behave, how to set priorities and at what pace to do the work.  

When team members come from different backgrounds, ‘these taken-for-granted habits frequently clash’. Here’s a few tips for building trust: 

Create space for different perspectives: A growing number of formerly ‘taboo topics’, such as mental wellbeing and women’s health, are the cornerstones of discussion in today’s workforces. While generational groupings are not a precursor for attitudes, it is important to acknowledge that some workers have entered the workforce discussing their experiences as the norm, while others have had to grow accustomed to the practice of bringing their ‘whole self’ to work.  

This may impact how comfortable different people are talking about these topics at work. Encourage your team to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, creating a safe space in which they can challenge their unconscious biases and explore beliefs that differ from their own. 

Communicate better - and often: Make use of your onboarding experience to survey your incoming workers to ensure you understand the communication preferences and expectations of your teams – and then honour these decisions.  

Use this data to challenge your own unconscious biases. We often assume that younger members of the workforce prefer ‘digital first’ communications such as instant messaging apps and quick-fire emails. But in an era of information overload, some may appreciate the opportunity to interact with colleagues via a call or face-to-face meeting, seeking out opportunities for greater collaboration or knowledge-sharing.  

Celebrate achievements: We should all be taking more time to celebrate the success of our teams. As we acknowledge the cross-functional collaborations that enable us to achieve our goals, consider highlighting the specific benefits that diversity of age brought to the table.  

Were there moments when differing life experiences helped you better understand the challenges your customer faced? Or perhaps a tried-and-tested method was enhanced or evolved with the disruptive thinking layered in by your newest team member? Make sure to tell these stories and share the ‘big wins’ from your diverse teams.  

 

3. Offer training across your workforce, at every stage.  

Amongst high-performing teams, knowledge flows in multiple directions. Leaders need to ensure they are creating opportunities for information to be shared across their workforce, including differing age dynamics.  

This could consist of more informal knowledge-sharing via a mentoring, or even reverse-mentoring programme, in which individuals from different lifecycle stages are paired up and encouraged to share their insights on specific areas of expertise. This could include technical skills, such as navigating new technologies, or the ‘softer’ skills needed to progress their career goals, such as managing the expectations of senior stakeholders.  

And let’s not forget that learning needs to happen across various lifecycle stages. As technology continues to evolve at breakneck speed and the shelf-life of many skills contracts significantly, workers are increasingly under pressure to reskill and upskill to tackle growing talent shortages. 

The good news? Research suggests that age does not impact employees’ willingness to undergo training to reskill. How you approach and implement training opportunities, however, will impact appetite for learning.  

In response, a growing number of organisations are turning to more formalised learning and development programmes, including the ‘Hire-Train-Deploy' (HTD) model.  

HTD sees candidates recruited based on skills, rather than previous work experience. These individuals receive a salary to undergo a structured training and assessment programme, before joining an employer on a predetermined contract period.  

Although Hire-Train-Deploy models have largely been associated with harnessing the potential of younger members of the workforce, the structure and stability provided could also prove attractive to individuals approaching the end of their career.  

The ‘employer down’ rather than ‘education up’ model means that individuals are trained for a defined job function, offering a greater guarantee of employment at what could be considered a more vulnerable time in their career. 

 

Bridging the generational divide 

As talent shortages refuse to abate and productivity slumps across the globe, leaders face growing pressure to get the most out of their teams. Central to this will be a talent strategy that can leverage the differing learned experiences that today’s workforce shares.  

Nigel Kirkham, CEO of Enterprise Solutions at Hays, added: “Workers today are much more interested in the projects they’ll be involved in, and the knowledge they’ll accrue from these experiences. Organisations cannot rely on their brand presence alone, they’ll need to show the value-add available to prospective talent.” 

Could age diversity be your source of competitive advantage? Speak to the team at Enterprise Solutions to discuss how we can build a stronger value proposition, together.