Workplaces are perpetually renewed by an influx of younger workers, with each new generation bringing their own values and expectations into the workforce. But the modern workforce is also expanding in the opposite direction: with the retirement age now rising, it’s likely that the workplace of the future could include older employees than has historically been the case.
Employers need to think about the diverse needs of the different generations within their workforce, and how they cater to their needs and career expectations.
Being a good employer and retaining workers certainly isn’t just a case of wooing younger workers. According to ACAS, 13.5 million UK jobs will be created in the next decade – but only 7 million young people will enter the workforce during this time.
Recruiting older workers and possibly helping them adapt to new challenges is likely to be a necessity in the future workplace. As the retirement age looks set to be pushed further back in the future, it’s likely that older workers will remain in the workforce for a longer period than they have before.
Employers will have to adapt to the needs of these older workers and manage a longer spectrum of worker ages than ever before.
Every generation is shaped by economic circumstances, and by trends in education and society. It’s wrong to generalise about a worker of any age, but each generation has the potential to bring their own expectations around work and careers, and a unique approach to communication.
Your organisation may need to take a pragmatic approach to recruiting, training, and retaining each of the generations it employs. It’s also important to avoid intergenerational conflict in the workplace, as the values, needs and expectations of one generation rubs up against those of another.
Millennials: the biggest labour group
As the largest demographic group presently in the workforce, Millennials bring their own influential attitude into working life. Born between around 1980 and 2000, this group will shape and define workplace expectations well into the future.
By 2020, they’ll represent half the world’s workforce. Because this group has grown up with modern computing technology, they’re in the unique position of having entered the workforce with better command of key business tools than senior managers.
This puts them at a career advantage, which has the flip side of making older workers nervous of being replaced.
Although they are technologically capable and flexible at adapting to new technologies, younger demographics such as millennials and centennials also have unique workplace needs. They aren’t comfortable with rigid structures or information silos, and they don’t often respect hierarchy at work.
Having struggled to start a career during the noughties economic crisis, they’ve learnt not to expect any long-term loyalty from their employer – nor do they give any back.
Research by PWC indicates that only 10% of Millennials working in financial services planned to stay with their current role for the long term; in other sectors only 18% planned to stay. That suggests employers can expect high turnover from this generation of workers.
They’re also more likely to expect a flexible working life, such as some choice over their working hours or location, compared to more workers of previous generations. Employers who don’t match these expectations may put themselves at a disadvantage when trying to recruit.
Younger demographics may have higher expectations for a varied and fulfilling career compared to older demographics. They may seek an employer that has the same values as themselves, for example.
They typically expect workplaces to be informal and sociable, whereas older workers may have very different expectations for the atmosphere in their workplace. Older workers may have greater respect for workplace hierarchy and expect to be rewarded for loyalty to an employer.
Although younger workers tend to have higher expectations for feedback about their performance, and for praise, they tend to expect to switch employers in order to progress rather than to climb within an organisation.
Different demographics may bring their own unique approach to communication into the workplace. Older groups such as Baby Boomers may particularly value face to face communication, whilst half of Millennials apparently prefer to communicate electronically.
Forbes described an intergenerational conflict in the workplace when an older worker expressed frustration at younger colleagues not returning her phone calls. There’s a potential for a conflict of approaches, with younger workers expecting guidance and feedback about their work and older workers seeing this as needy.
Younger workers managed by older generations are often at risk of feeling underappreciated or left in the dark. It’s vital to get all generations communicating effectively with one another in order to achieve a harmonious workplace where everyone’s needs are taken into account.
Although demographic groups tend to demonstrate particular characteristics in the workplace, every employee is an individual with their own personality and career expectations.
Perhaps the key thing is to abandon prejudices about the different generations and try to get to the heart of what workers need to achieve success at work. The key thing is to get everyone communicating effectively and feeling equally valued, irrespective of what that means for their demographic profile.