Tapping into the changing needs and desires of five generations of consumers is only part of the challenge facing today’s business leaders. Just as taxing is the question of how to manage a multigenerational workforce. How exactly do you ensure that your incentives, ways of working and corporate ethos are going to appeal to both your younger and older employees?

Mark Purdy, Managing Director (Economic Research) and Chief Economist at Accenture, comments: “There’s a clear need for a multigenerational organisation. We’ve recognised that there’s a major trend around ageing and increasingly organisations are thinking about this, but maybe what we haven’t recognised is that we have a lot of millennials in the workforce too, and increasingly the successful organisations are going to be defined by their ability to bridge the gap between the ages and capitalise on the inherent strengths of both young and old.”

It’s a leadership and talent management issue. Naomi Wells, Head of Future Planning and Sustainable Development at Waitrose, part of the John Lewis Partnership, says: “We want to be able to offer a benefits package which appeals to people at the end of their career and the beginning of their career. Having choices is really important, whether that’s buying an extra week’s holiday, investing more in your pension or taking childcare vouchers, and a benefits package that covers the full spectrum of your workforce will also help you to attract talent, both young and old.”

Few of those in leadership roles will have experienced this before, especially as it is intricately linked with how technology is changing the workplace. Vanda Murray, Board Mentor and Non-executive Director at construction and support services company Carillion, says: “Businesses need to invest in IT to enable flexible working, which may be from home or any remote location, as it is now expected that we are all 'connected' wherever we are.

“There are huge benefits to businesses that embrace more flexible working patterns and practices. It helps recruitment and retention – in particular those workers with family commitments – be it younger children or elderly parents. Young mothers often find they cannot balance work and home life without this flexibility for example.”

Experience matters

According to research by Accenture, the fact that people are staying in employment for longer should be seen as a good thing for the economy as increasing time in the workforce by one year per person in the UK would boost the level of real GDP by one per cent. Mark says: “The fact that we’re going to have more people in their mid-sixties who still have valid skills, plenty to contribute and who also have time, is a tremendous opportunity for organisations that can harness it in the right way.”

In many cases, it’s about thinking how the older generation’s experience can be used in more imaginative ways. At Tullow Oil, for example, older workers who aren’t yet ready to retire are proving to be extremely useful when applying their experience overseas. Gordon Headley, Chief HR Officer at Tullow, explains: “In Ghana, Uganda and Kenya where our main operations are, there is an expectation from local governments that we train local workers,” he says. “By having older workers available to go and work overseas we can send seasoned and highly experienced oil-field professionals to train local workers… which [makes our older workers feel valued and] gains us great favour with those governments.”

Tim Smart, Chief Executive of the Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, has seen a similar benefit of shared knowledge: “We are doing quite a lot of work with health care systems providers in the Middle East. They really value and respect age and experience so we are able to offer people opportunities beyond their normal retirement age, working in our more commercial developments which are principally overseas.”

It’s a case of applying some imagination and creative thinking to the world of work. Anne Jaeger, Chief Risk and Compliance Officer at insurance firm RSA Scandinavia, says: “We have been able to attract people who would otherwise have retired to some senior schemes by finding ways to suit their needs, such as where they only work three days a week or part time.”

Great expectations

The under 30s generation, or so-called ‘millennials’, also want different things from an employer. “Our younger workers aren’t driven just by money,” claims Don Elgie, CEO of PR and communications concern Creston. “They’re also interested in being able to advance themselves through learning… [that’s why] we have various graduate [and] innovation schemes where we encourage people from across the group to, for example, pitch for a hypothetical client or submit an innovative idea. Actually, we’ve found they’re motivated by a whole host of non-financial incentives.”

Mark comments: “We find that a lot of the people we recruit [at Accenture] are incredibly interested in, for example, our Corporate Citizenship programme, Skills to Succeed, or the work we do for the World Economic Forum. There’s this sense that they’re interested not just in the business itself, but in its place in the wider world and the contribution that it can make to society.”

Unlocking the power of a multigenerational workforce involves encouraging the exchange of knowledge and experience between the young and old in an organisation. Jane Furniss, NED at the National Crime Agency and former CEO of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, comments: “Certainly, at the IPCC, use of social media, technology, understanding of networks and ways of operating among young people and understanding of the world, meant that many of the people that [we recruited] and the police officers who operated with us, found that shared learning was really valuable…

“The experience of one and the knowledge and understanding of the other really improved how we did our business. And it was better for the public, making sure our services were changing to the public demands.”

Rudi Kindts, Non-executive Director for technical recruiter Matchtech and former HR Director for British American Tobacco, says: “The nature of what constitutes work is changing and I see some organisations that really haven’t thought it through or are still arguing against the benefits of flexible working… [while others] are making their sales force as flexible as possible, providing them with the technology so they can be on the road, working from home or wherever.”

Increasingly, successful organisations are going to be defined by their ability to harness productivity across the workforce, combining the wisdom of age with the exuberance of youth.

I hope to see you soon.