Generations leave referendum differences at the office door

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

The importance of making good communication easy

“Employees can experience an increase in morale, productivity and commitment if they are able to communicate up and down the communication chain in an organization” – Jennifer Lombardo, Business Ethics at

Good communication in the workplace is key – whether that’s briefing a piece of work, delivering team news, or updating the company on the annual performance.

The ongoing piece of research that we’re carrying out on the multigenerational workplace suggests that there are many ways in which companies can make communicating easier. Employees of all generation’s feel that there are certain aspects that can make communicating easier, be it between teams, with their line manager, or receiving company updates.

“Go the extra mile”

It’s one of those phrases that is often used, and subconsciously understood. But do we really understand what is meant by that, and furthermore, what is actually required in order to achieve it? It’s one of those aspects of work that isn’t outlined, and no-one asks for it to be, and therefore no-one explains it. It just exists as an achievable benchmark, whilst simultaneously having no attainable elements.

It’s clear from our research that ‘going the extra mile’ has very different meanings. Some (mainly Gen X) think it is about working extra hours, others (Baby Boomers and Gen Z) believe having a real impact in your role achieves this. Does paying extra attention to customers’ needs fulfil the requirement? Generations Y & Z think so.

This is something that will vary substantially across different businesses, role types and environments. However if employees/ line managers provide an explanation as to how they see this being achievable, this will enable employees to focus on certain aspects, pushing both their own levels of productivity but also raising the standard of the department/ company.

Face-to-face communication really is important

We found that across all four generations, all of them chose face-to-face as the preferred method of communicating. There’d perhaps be an expectation for the younger generations to prefer more digitally-led conversations, but this was not the case. Email was the second choice method, but actually it was Gen Y that had the highest preference for this and it was selected only when face-to-face was not possible.

Responsibility for this largely falls to Line Managers – especially as our findings show that the single most important quality that employees want their line manager to have is to be approachable. Where the frustration lies for employees though is that they also feel that communication is their managers’ main shortcoming. There is a recognition that managers are very busy, under lots of pressure, and spend a lot of time in meetings and/or travelling, however this is a key aspect where employees are looking for improvements. In time this can have an effect on employees’ morale, performance, their view of their personal development, and ultimately, retention.

Another aspect that can affect face-to-face communication is the office layout, especially for internal conversations between team members. Again, all four of the generations agreed that an open plan office was the preferred option, allowing for easy exchanges and sharing of information.

The increase in flexible working

flexible working

It’s interesting that whilst employees are looking for more in-person conversations at work, flexible working is becoming more and more popular, with a reported 1.5 million people1 now working at home, increasing their work-life balance and reducing commuting costs.

There are of course company benefits to this as well, with a reduction in costs, an often increased level of productivity (lack of distractions, more available working hours), and the ability to hire the best candidates regardless of geographical location.

Our study showed that employees see flexible working as a nice to have, rather than an essential benefit. Therefore it’s important that employers who offer this, or are thinking about introducing it as an option take into consideration the effect this can have on internal communications, too.

These are just a few aspects that can affect the levels and quality of communication within the workplace. The key point, however, is that employees see this as very important, which in turn means employers should be classifying this as a high priority. Improving the chains of communication can lead to questions being answered faster, improved understanding both within and across teams, and the increased confidence of employees.


It’s time to rethink what we know about our colleagues

Stereotypes. Oversimplified and rigid, but we all use them and there’s a good reason we fall back on them. They’re a handy short cut, helping us quickly make sense of the world around us and the people in it. Women, men, ethnic groups, faith groups, people of different cultures, class backgrounds or different countries are all subject to stereotyping. The first reference to a stereotype was way back in 1850, as a noun that meant “image perpetuated without change” and it was in 1922 that stereotype was first used in the modern psychological sense, by American journalist Walter Lippmann, in his work Public Opinion.

But people do change.

The workplace is no exception to stereotyping. Take a look at this article that appeared on LinkedIn recently. Look at how the Millennials (born 1982 to 1994) are described as lazy, and Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1965) are described as less adaptable.

There’s nothing new in dismissing the younger generation as work-shy, irresponsible and unable to stand on its own two feet. All the talk of helicopter parenting, where parents wrap their kids in cotton wool and micromanage every aspect of their lives, hasn’t helped. Writing in The Huffington Post recently, Brook Price asked “Are You Hindering Your Child’s Development?” and warned of a family epidemic sweeping the nation, an epidemic he christens “failure to launch syndrome”. Price says kids have been so cosseted by their parents, that young adults are unable to achieve independence. Too many kids today are on “developmental vacation,” says Price.

Whether you’re an employee or an employer, understanding the different generations is too important to rely on stereotypes. Without a true understanding of the different generations, employers cannot know how to manage each in a way that drives performance, innovation and teamwork. They cannot know how to communicate, train and retain each generation. They cannot unlock the potential of each generation or tap into what each has to offer.

It’s time to rethink what we know about our colleagues.

Talent Works International spoke to 1,200 professionals, 300 from each of the four generations in the workplace today, in a quest to develop a real and reliable understanding of how they approach the world of work. Here are some of the most thought-provoking results to come out of our first of several studies to shine a light on the multi-generational workplace.

The younger generations are work-shy and lazy – not so

It’s simply not true that the younger generations are work-shy and lazy. Our research shows that of all the generations, it’s the youngest, Gen Z (born 1995 to 2009) that’s most relaxed about being on call 24/7. Whilst not bowled over by the idea, they’re less than half as likely to strongly disagree, and at least twice as likely to strongly agree, that employees should be contactable evenings and weekends.

If the youngest generation was work-shy, you might expect them to be heavily in favour of using personal phones in the workplace. Not so. Once again it’s Gen Z, this time joined by the oldest generation, the Baby Boomers, that’s least tolerant of personal phones in the workplace.

When we asked our respondents to describe their ideal culture and atmosphere at work, hardworking featured in the top three for all generations, including the younger ones.

The younger generations are socially awkward – not in the workplace

Fears that Gen Z has been rendered socially awkward as a result of a lack of social interaction brought on by always being online and communicating remotely via social media, do not stack up. Our research shows that the younger generations are no different from their older colleagues in preferring teamwork mixed with opportunities to work alone.

Gen Z isn’t wholly convinced about the use of headphones in the workplace, a behaviour one might well associate with the socially awkward. In fact, half are either actively against the idea or not sure. They attach just as much importance to getting along with colleagues as their older colleagues. The proportion for whom this isn’t important is negligible regardless of generation.

Of all the generations, the youngest are keenest on an open plan layout. The proportion of Gen Z and Gen Y for whom an open plan layout is their number one choice is 46% and 51% respectively.

It’s important that employers recognise the value of actively creating opportunities for all employees, whatever generation they belong to, to get to know each other.

Older generations resent a younger boss – not the case

The longer you work, the more likely it is that you’ll find yourself reporting to someone younger than you. As more and more people delay retirement in order to support their children or pay off their mortgage, and as the official retirement age goes up and up, the younger boss phenomenon is increasingly common. But contrary to expectations, Baby Boomers don’t have a problem with it.

In fact, 68% of Baby Boomers who responded to our survey said they’d feel “very comfortable” with a younger line manager. Only 3% were not at all comfortable. Ease of working with a younger line manager steadily increases with age. This implies that Baby Boomers recognise that having a younger boss can have substantial benefits, and that there are things they can learn from them.

Intriguingly, all generations, including the very oldest with decades of experience, lack conviction that they’re well equipped for the world of work. Only 32% of Baby Boomers strongly agree that they’re well equipped.

The rewards of an open mind

It’s easy to fall back on stereotypes, but with Baby Boomers willing to learn, and Gen Zs willing to collaborate and put in the hours – it’s those employers that are open to changing their way of thinking about different generations that will really be able to unlock their talent’s potential.