Getting the most from an age-diverse workforce has never been so crucial.
For the first time in the modern workplace, companies now have workforces spanning four generations. From school leavers right up to employees still working well into their 70s, colleague age gaps can be half a century or more.
As different generations of the technical professionals your business may be employing have varying preferences, styles, needs and expectations, it’s helpful to pinpoint what broadly defines each cohort:
With many people needing to delay retirement, the group known as Baby Boomers sit at the top of the workforce age bracket. Broadly speaking, they respect the status quo and hierarchy, and value conventional working patterns. In fact, Baby Boomer dedication to work inspired the word ‘workaholic’ (at a time when the concept of ‘work-life balance’ was still a way off).
When Gen X hit the workplace in the mid-80s onwards, they set about making office life less formal. Unlike Baby Boomers, they tend to be more ‘me-orientated’ and work to live - instead of the other way round. Many Gen Xers saw their parents lose jobs in the early 90s recession so it follows that this is the first generation to be less inclined to commit to an employer or job for life.
More values-driven than previous generations, Generation Y tends to see work as a chance to be fulfilled and make a difference. They demand more from leadership, and feel no qualms about challenging how they’re being managed. Work-life balance is key, and they want to be able to work flexibly and collaboratively with others. This generation is also highly entrepreneurial, with the majority wanting to run their own businesses.
The new starters, Generation Z are digital natives who’ve grown up with the internet, mobile phones and social media. Although they’re used to being able to find out things instantly, they also value face-to-face communication alongside email, phone and instant messaging. Purpose and values are important to them, and they rate employers who take social awareness and corporate social responsibility seriously.
Diverse workforces - including people of all ages - bring clear benefits. Studies show that productivity, innovation, engagement and crucially bottom line improve. What’s more, diversity and inclusion are important factors that make up the company culture necessary to attract and retain star players.
A recent survey showed that people think working with other generations is a big positive, with 53% of respondents saying they’d learned a lot from other generations.
These findings don’t surprise us at RHL, where we’re skilled at finding the best talent for technical professional vacancies. Time and again, we notice that the employers outperforming their rivals thrive on a wide range of ideas and knowledge from a broad group of people - including different ages.
While it’s helpful to know what broadly defines each generation, it’s important to try and avoid stereotypes or sweeping generalisations about different cohorts.
Many businesses find cross-generation mentoring a helpful tool for this, with younger employees coaching older colleagues in digital skills, and more experienced colleagues passing on interpersonal skills and institutional knowledge.
This kind of mentoring is a way to help colleagues of varying ages connect and empathise with each other - while also capitalising on the wealth of different skills, experiences and viewpoints the workforce contains.
It’s clear that leading multiple generations in the workplace is about understanding and respecting people’s differences - but also viewing each colleague as people in their own right. Is it time to think about how your company can make more of its multi-generational workforce?