There are now four generations collaborating in today’s workplace, and sometimes five. Each generation has its own idiosyncrasies, but employers are beginning to realise that there are big advantages in multigenerational workplaces.
Older adults often report that they no longer feel at home in their workplace, as their colleagues become younger and the reliance on technology increases.
But the people skills and business experience of today’s over 50s are of major relevance to businesses of all kinds.
Young people today have grown up with technology integrated into their lives – making them digital natives. But more mature workers bring emotional intelligence – their knowledge of how humans and organisations interrelate has been formed over decades of experience.
Every generation has their own nuances, and while it is often unhelpful to generalise, it is important to understand the motivations and reasoning behind each generation’s characteristics.
As we have already seen, people in Generation Z (born since 1996) have grown up with technology all around them. They gained their first mobile phone as a child and have never known a world without the Internet.
Meanwhile the Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964) and Generation X (1965 to 1976) remember the workplace before PCs and email. They are good at building business relationships and often prefer to speak face to face than operate in a virtual world.
Generation Y, or the Millennials, are now aged between 25 and 40. Sometimes referred to as the Snowflake generation, there has been extensive commentary on this generation’s sense of entitlement – although in reality this is difficult to evidence.
We divide humanity into these generations to drive understanding and insight, yet this approach can often take a negative turn and end up with sweeping generalisations and division.
There are many reasons why multigenerational teams are good for business, including:
In his book Wisdom at Work, Chip Conley talks about his own experience of joining Airbnb, a workplace where he was surrounded by a tech-savvy young workforce. He noticed that employees aged 45+ were feeling threatened by the sheer pace of technological change, but at the same time many start-ups face business problems due to a lack of business experience.
He observes that much progress has been made on promoting gender and race at work in recent years, but that age has been left out of the equation. “We have to start thinking that age is a form of diversity too and that having multigenerational teams is good for business,” he says.
He says: “Employers need to understand what older people are looking for and to listen to them. They may want to gradually reduce their hours. Most employers think people are either full-time or no-time.”
Attitudes are rapidly changing about flexibility at work, which brings a great opportunity to retain and motivate more mature employees, to create truly multigenerational workplaces.