The Intergenerational Organisation
As people live and work for longer, by the year 2020 it will be common to have as many as 4 or even 5 generations working alongside each other, each with different needs and expectations.
Millennials are expected to comprise 50% of the global workforce by 2020 and 75% of the workforce by 2025, and their values will come to dominate the business mainstream, from new technologies and new forms of communication, to an increased demand for purposeful work, collaboration and flexible working. They are not alone – the Gen Z’s coming in behind them are even more digitally savvy, globally connected and entrepreneurial.
During this time the proportion of the workforce over 50 will also soar, to a third or higher in developed economies such as the UK, and employers will need age-inclusive strategies to harness the full potential of older workers and help protect their health.
How can we design workplace cultures and communications to enable five generations to thrive? How do we get the best from what each generation can bring, to build a world of work that is inclusive, purposeful and sustainable? What the values and behaviours that unite rather than divide generations?
Impact of Millennials’ values
Millennials are already affecting business culture due to the sheer size of their generation. They expect the organisations they work for to share or support their personal values, and they value authenticity and purposeful business that has a positive impact on the world. Research by Deloitte has found that as a generation they are entrepreneurial, avoid traditional hierarchies, value work-life balance and are prepared to start their own businesses rather than conform to workplace cultures that they dislike. Millennials are driving the growth in social enterprises, Benefit corporations and B-corps – by setting them up, buying their products and wanting to work for them.
Millennials present a strong challenge to traditional ways of working, and a catalyst for the rapid take-up of new networked forms of employment and self-employment that we explored in the ‘un-organisation’ theme of this project. For example, new Blockchain-based platforms such as Backfeed are starting to make new forms of decentralised, transparent and collaborative organisations possible, which speak strongly to both Millennials’ values and their generational ease with new technology. They are likely to use these tools to reshape the worlds of work and finance over the next decade.
What does this mean for existing organisations, and for older workers with different expectations of the workplace? How can the values and creativity of Millennials be integrated for the benefit of everyone?
Including older workers
As populations age, organisations are having to rethink their approach to their employees nearing retirement. Germany has a particularly acute challenge – 45% of its workers will be over 50 by 2020 – and it is facing a skills shortage as older experienced workers retire, with not enough younger workers to replace them due to the different generation sizes. ‘Part-retirement’ packages are now offered by some organisations, swapping salary for extra months of holiday. BMW has redesigned a whole factory around the ergonomic needs of the over-50s, and seen productivity rise in response. In the UK, BT uses a reservist-style scheme to call on retired engineers during busy periods, and Barclays has opened up its apprenticeships to all age groups, to allow older workers to reskill.
Despite continuing ageism, companies increasingly value older workers – those that employ them praise their reliability, loyalty and their “soft skills” in customer service. Some point out that as the population ages, so too do their clients. Various studies suggest that older workers can be just as productive as their younger colleagues. Although memory, attention and mental agility fade with age, older workers compensate for this with experience and better judgment.
In addition, many of the working conditions valued by older workers such as improved work-life balance and greater flexibility are also attractive to Millennials, and benefit overall employee satisfaction. However new management challenges appear – such as how to benefit from the skills of older workers without letting them take all the best jobs. The different expectations and working styles of different generations also need to be carefully navigated, without succumbing to generational stereotyping.
Managing the intergenerational mix
Different age-groups tend to hold very different assumptions about the world of work, and have divergent communication and training preferences that can cause unintentional friction. For example, our project workshops highlighted the totally different attitudes to phone use between Millennials, who prefer to text, and Boomers, who prefer to talk. This seemingly small difference led to regular daily frustrations on both sides. Multigenerational workplaces risk negative stereotyping and misunderstanding between older and younger workers, but this can be turned on its head into positive opportunities for development. Successful workplace cultures can promote empathy between the different generations via skill-sharing and mentoring to harness the enthusiasm and technological aptitude of the young alongside the experience and perspective of the old.
Generational labels have limited usefulness at the individual level and it may be more helpful to focus on ‘perennial’ values and behaviours that benefit workers of all ages as labour markets enter a phase of disruption and unpredictability in the coming decade. What might these perennial characteristics look like, in the light of the three themes of this project?