The abrupt departure of Meghan and Harry from the Royal Family has highlighted how different generations can have wildly contrasting expectations and aspirations about their careers and lives.
Today, this generational diversity is reflected in the workplace which is now home to employees aged from 18 to 80.
Improved living standards, deflating pension pots and legal protection against age discrimination have all helped to nudge up the retirement age. The result is that for the first time since the industrial revolution, five generations of employees are now working side-by-side.
There has been a lot of focus and research on the needs, aspirations and desires of millennials.
However, I think one of the biggest challenges facing organisations is managing and motivating an intergenerational workforce. A YouGov survey of UK mid-sized organisations revealed that 66% of them valued an age-diverse workforce and believed it would help the company to have more comprehensive skills and knowledge base.
More than seven in ten (71%) felt that a multi-generational workforce brought contrasting views to their organisation. However, four in ten companies (41%) said that a multi-generational workforce also increased the risk of conflict in the workplace.
Interestingly, the survey also found that managers tend to find managing their generations easier than managing others. This was true for baby boomers, millennial and Generation-X respondents.
It’s how those five generations work with each other and how they are developed and managed which will have an impact on an organisation’s productivity.
Much of the published generational research focuses on the differences between the millennial generation and other generations.
The Tapping into Talent report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), found that Baby Boomers like to receive recognition for the hours that they work as well as for performance whereas Generation X and Y needed immediate and frequent feedback.
The CIPD report also revealed that different generations had different preferences for training. Generation X and Y placed greater emphasis on development generally and preferred to learn independently often using computer-based training or the Internet whereas Baby Boomers and Veterans preferred more traditional classroom or paper-based training.
This provides an incredibly exciting challenge for business leaders to harness an age-diverse employee culture, who all possess these different drivers, attitudes and perspectives.
Furthermore, business leaders will already have their own internal ‘focus group’ in place to ensure it’s delivering to all its customers regardless of their age.
The flip side of this is that businesses who use the ‘one size fits all’ perspective when managing employees will struggle to recruit, engage, motivate, challenge and ultimately retain talented individuals.
For instance, in terms of recruiting, a CV might secure an interview for a potential employee but the employer should be using the interview to understand the person and their potential; not their qualifications and the suitability to do the job. After all, who knows what the job will look like in twelve months? Instead, organisations should analyse whether an individual has the right values and culture for the company and whether they can articulate their drivers so the business can adapt to them.
Alongside this multi-generational workforce, the workplace is undergoing a technological revolution which is not only challenging how businesses and society run but also how we want to work and live.
For example, remote working is something that younger generations expect as they operate in a different mindset from those whose identity was formed by their presence in the workplace. Indeed, the era of shared workspaces and portfolio-working, as opposed to office-based environments and career for life, means that the workplace community is formed in a completely different way to what business leaders grew up with.
If an interaction is becoming ever more digitalised, then the different ways the generations interact with technology will have a profound impact on the workplace and how businesses are run. Therefore, it’s crucial that leaders need to be able to adapt to the different demands or aspirations of their workforce to help their employees achieve their potential.
In my opinion, a successful business in this new era is one that embraces change, understands it needs to be constantly challenging its processes and practices, recognises the people within it are its most important asset and utilises them to be constantly evolving.
Nick Gold, founder and Chief Executive of Speaker’s Corner