Multi-gen workplaces: A blessing or a curse?

We were recently featured in Impact, the magazine for the largest community of research, insight, analytics and marketing sciences professionals. Our Gen Up research was spotted and we were contacted to share our findings and feature in the magazine. Below is an excerpt from the featured article. 

A workplace with employees ranging from 18-to 67-year-olds- and in some instances, older – creates challenges for managers. It’s a new workplace dynamic, but is each generation really as different as we think?

We specialise in helping clients to craft their employer brand, giving employers the insight, creativity and adaptability to engage, motivate and inspire different generations. As part of our research, we aimed to debunk some of the stereotypes gaining traction across professional social media platforms, including LinkedIn. We carried out research using 1,200 participants across different industries and locations. To give our research credibility and make it representative we used a large sample of 300 for each generation. All four generations were covered, from the youngest group, Generation Z, born 1995 to 2009; Generation Y, born 1982 to 1994; Generation X, born 1966 to 1981, right through to Baby Boomers, born postwar.

Our Head of Insight, Katharine Newton said ‘we’d seen research looking at one or two of the generations but struggled to find any looking at all four simultaneously – yet that is the reality; lots of workplaces have that.’ This is where the Gen Up project came to life. It is where we could uncover whether it is possible to have an employer brand that speaks to all four generations at once, or if separate strategies would be required for each group. We wanted to dispel the assumption that different generations equals different pages, and that multi-gen doesn’t translate into conflict and disconnect.

During the process we found there to be a lot of common ground between the generations, dispelling the idea that generations are on different pages. ‘There is scope for an over-arching employer brand and recruitment strategy, but there are key areas where employers would be advised to dial up their messaging and proposition appropriately’, Katharine said. Our research draws attention to the older generation, who felt they were being overlooked in terms of training and development opportunities. Where younger employees receive abundant opportunities to develop, older colleagues feel these opportunities were not in their reach. It all stems back to ‘that assumption that when you hit 50 you’ve nothing more to learn – that you know it all. But our research suggests over 50s don’t feel that way and there’s a strong appetite for training’, says Katharine. In order to successfully meet young generations’ requirements, our research revealed that employers increase the frequency of their reward and recognition programme. But this unfortunately wasn’t prevalent amongst older groups.

The importance of communication is one of the most important findings from the research. ‘All four generations are looking for more communication than they are receiving. The elder generation was receiving even less than the younger ones. It backs up the misconception that they are considered as not needing those updates; is that generation being seen as a waste of time?’ This needs to change in order for the elder generation to feel equally valued in the workplace.

Another stereotype explored through this research was the idea that younger generations don’t have a strong work ethic. However, when we asked younger respondents what it meant to add value and go the extra mile in the workplace, their answers demonstrated a lot of thought and they were well equipped to articulate their answer. This finding also indicated that employers do not always communicate their expectations of how going the extra mile translates to their business. Altering this and making it clear to all parties would ensure cohesion towards goals. Becky Grove, one of our Lead Consultants, considers the old-fashioned idea of what the workplace is as one of the biggest challenges for employers and their employees. Our attitudes about the workplace need to be a truer reflection of the current climate.

We need to adapt our views surrounding older generations in the workplace, providing the same opportunities for training and growth that younger employees have access to. ‘Even though state pension age is getting higher and higher, people are working longer but we’re still acting like they’re not – that they don’t need to learn past 50 because they are coming up to retirement age.’ The figures on this one speak a lot louder than words. Business in the Community did a report on age in the workplace and looked at how many people are receiving work-related training. ‘11% over the age of 60 received some form of training’, whereas the figure for ‘under 50s was 30%’, Becky reports. The gap here is far too wide and for a multi-gen workplace to thrive, this needs to change.

Moving forward there needs to be a re-levelling. The shortfall in training opportunities for the older generations need to be addressed – but this needs to be done without being at the younger generation’s expense. Striking a balance here is the biggest challenge. Katharine said one of the biggest positives that came out of this study was the level of willingness across all generations to work collaboratively and learn from each other.

The workplace is certainly changing; young grads are reaching managerial level positions and having older colleagues reporting into them. Years ago this would have proved an issue, but today our research found that people of all generations were actually very comfortable with this new hierarchy. This is a real positive for the future. The cohesion across generations shows that employers need to maximise on the similarities between generations, rather than trying to distinguish each group from one another.

Want to see more about our Gen-Up project? Click here.