Generations leave referendum differences at the office door

Some say the recent EU referendum result, in which young voters overwhelmingly supported Remain and older voters backed Leave, speaks to a growing rift between the young and old in Britain – a nation divided on age lines. That younger and older voters had very opposing views on whether or not to stay in Europe is plain to see. But a recent study by Talent Works International cautions us not to over-state the generational divide. Exploring attitudes and perceptions in the workplace amongst four different generations recently, Talent Works discovered that different needs and expectations sit alongside many areas of common ground between the different generations. When it comes to the workplace our research suggests there is more that unites the generations than divides.

First let’s look at the EU referendum results. An age breakdown of EU referendum polling shows that 75 per cent of people aged 18-24 claimed they voted for Remain. A majority of people age 25-49 also backed Remain, at 56 percent. By contrast, just 39 per cent of those aged 65 and over voted to stay in Europe. These results led to claims that baby boomers were “screwing the younger generations over yet again”. Many young voters took to Twitter and Facebook to vent their anger and considerable frustration with older people:

“70% of youngsters voted to remain. Hope their parents remember that when they are dribbling in their retirement home”

“Baby boomers screwing the younger generations over YET again.”

“Brexit proves that the generation of people today aged 40-70 have awful thoughtless politics and undermine the young worldwide.”

“The older generation has decided upon a future that they won’t even be a part of and young people will have to deal with this.”

“3/4 of young people voted remain, that tells you something about what we want from our future, but now you’ve screwed with it.”

“Thanks granny.”

Polls conducted for the London School of Economics reveal that almost half of voters aged 18-24 cried or felt like crying when they heard the UK had voted to leave the European Union. Out of a sample of 2,113 British adults, 32 per cent said they cried or felt like crying when they heard the result. This proportion went up to 47 per cent among 18 to 24 year olds. When asked how they felt towards people who voted to leave the EU, 67 per cent of young people said they felt angry, 72 per cent frustrated and 61 per cent disgusted.

With the marked difference in voting between the young and the old plus the strength of young people’s negative feelings towards older people following the result it’s not hard to see why there is talk of a rift between younger and older people in Britain.

However, Gen Up – Talent Works’ extensive, ongoing research programme exploring the complexities of employing multiple generations in the workplace has discovered that when it comes to the world of work younger and older generations are united more than they are divided. The workplace, unlike the polling booth, is far from in danger of collapsing into inter-generational conflict.

We’ve discovered many areas of common ground between the different generations that employers can capitalise on:

  • A shared appreciation of the importance of teamwork
  • A shared preference for an open plan office
  • A shared preference for face-to-face communication
  • Similar reward and remuneration preferences

For instance, we’ve learnt that almost six out of ten Gen X workers surveyed were very comfortable having a younger boss. This proportion rose to 68 per cent amongst Baby Boomers.  In fact, only five per cent and three per cent of Gen X and Baby Boomers respectively were uncomfortable with a younger boss. 83 per cent to 88 per cent of each generation – Gen Z, millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers – count at least one work colleague as a friend. All four generations share a dislike of instant messaging in the workplace – those in favour range from zero from the oldest workers for company news to a peak of just 6 per cent from the youngest for communicating within teams. Contrary to expectations, the oldest and youngest generations are equally intolerant of personal phones in the workplace – 28 per cent of Gen Z workers are against the use of personal phones in the workplace, just two per cent short of the proportion of Baby Boomers who are opposed.

The EU referendum result has left Britain feeling like a nation divided – a nation divided along age lines. A nation where 16 to 24 year olds feel screwed over by the older generation. This is why it’s so important employers build on and emphasise the many areas of common ground our research shows exists between the different generations in the workplace. In these difficult times it’s vital employers reach out to all generations and create opportunities for different generations to work together and get know each other inside and outside work. Doing so will deliver benefits for employers too by driving performance, innovation and teamwork.

In these difficult times it’s vital employers remind us of all that unites us.

Information sources

“EU Referendum Results: Young ‘Screwed By Older Generations’ As Polls Suggest 75% Backed Remain”

‘Thanks, Granny’. Louise Ridley. 24 June 2016

 “Britain’s youth voted Remain” Hortense Goulard. 6/24/16, 9:03 AM CET