Age is no barrier for those companies that recognise the opportunity presented by the convergence in the workplace of baby boomers, millennials and gens X and Z. “A multigenerational staff base has different perspectives, experiences and is full of a richness you can build upon,” says Steven Cooper, CEO at Barclaycard Business Solutions.
Success will depend on how senior leaders enable employees to collaborate and share knowledge, while also empowering them to make decisions. Steven explains that at Barclaycard there is a younger demographic of employee who wants a much more agile and informal working environment, but this is being balanced with a recruitment plan to find older employees, aged 55 and above.
“Because of this we needed to create a working environment that subtly met everyone’s needs," he says. "We built a combination of open, agile working space and spaces that provide quiet. There are areas where people can eat together and areas where people can eat alone.
“What you start to see is younger people talking to older people about an issue that has come up in their lives. There is an element of trust that starts to develop because one group has experiences and the other is open to hearing about them.”
Following on from this, Devyani Vaishampayan, founder and Managing Partner at The HR TECH Partnership and former HR specialist at companies including G4S, Rolls-Royce and Citigroup, says: “The differences between the way these generations approach work should be addressed by companies. For millennials, it is not about being seen to be at work, or where they complete the work, it is simply about getting the work done.
“Baby Boomers are often the polar-opposite; they want to be seen to be in the office and would feel uncomfortable about leaving early, even if their work is complete.”
Beverley Eagle, HR Director at Veolia Water Technologies, comments: “Businesses of course need to develop an agile workforce that is able to work remotely, but collaborative phases of projects should be maintained to allow people to work together, face to face.
“An organisation has to find a vehicle to bring people together on a regular basis, otherwise some employees might start to feel segregated.”
In many cases, companies are pulling back from years of established labour practices and procedures. “This is going to be a challenge for HR,” says Beverley. “It’s one that we simply cannot ignore because more people are going to be working into old age.”
Building on this point, she adds: “The senior leadership team of a company needs to know that when it comes to dealing with different sections of the workforce, it’s no longer a case of one size fits all. It is down to the HR department to lead that conversation and help senior leaders to make any changes that are necessary in order to adapt to a multigenerational employee base.”
Walk the talk
There has to be advocacy and a willingness to change among the executive team, which includes proactively tackling issues around stereotypes and unconscious bias. “When trying to develop a diverse, multigenerational company, you have to start at the top,” states Devyani. “If you have a senior leadership team that is diverse, then the rest of the company is likely to develop in a similar fashion.”
However, she identifies a problem when it comes to getting younger people into senior leadership roles, saying that “to overcome this issue, companies have to stop associating age with competence and capability – they simply need to assess the ability of a person to do the job in question”.
David Grounds, Relationship Manager at Criticaleye, is finding that many of the senior leaders he works with are fully aware that businesses need to act fast if they are to remain competitive in this unprecedented labour market. “Developing and supporting a multigenerational workforce is essential if you’re serious about recruitment, retention, engagement and productivity.
“To respond successfully, it requires the board and HR to work closely together to create the right people strategy – such discussions should be seen as nothing less than effective risk management.”
In one sense, changing demographics is making the world of work more complex, and yet at the same time it reinforces the importance of rounded leadership skills if employees are going to be engaged, inspired and motivated.
As Steven puts it: “To successfully lead a multigenerational team, you require a good dose of EQ as well as IQ. It demands an understanding of the different needs of team members, how they operate and their respective strengths and weaknesses.”
When assessing how an organisation can unlock the opportunity presented by multiple generations working together, some executives will review existing technology, others flexible working, and a few may evaluate organisational design.
The companies that are ahead of the curve are looking at all of these different elements together and then asking: do we have the leadership capability to engage with this kind of workforce?
It’s a question that needs answering sooner rather than later.
By Robert Leeming, Editor, Criticaleye
By Robert Leeming, Editor, Criticaleye