The best workplaces are multi-generational ones. You just need to manage them effectively. We look at how you can get the best out of all your employees, regardless of age or stage.
Wouldn’t life be dull if we were all the same? All eating the same things, wearing the same outfits and thinking the same way. Imagine if your workplace only employed the same sorts of people. Life would get pretty dull, pretty quickly.
When you work with people of all different ages, it’s true you can learn a lot from the multi-generations. But it isn’t always plain sailing. Unfortunately, conflict still rears its ugly head from time to time with some HR departments blaming a cross-generational divide.
Sodexo’s ‘Generation Game: Winning Employee Hearts and Minds in a Dynamic Multi-Generational Workplace’ study, looks at the challenges that need addressing when managing employees across different age groups.
But don’t panic just yet, the similarities between the multi-generations are more striking than their differences. We look at how you can encourage employees of all ages to work together, more cohesively and effectively.
OLDER WORKER, YOUNGER BOSS
“Do younger people really want to work with older people? What can they possibly have in common?”
Right now, younger people are managing older staff in their droves. Millennials are the biggest age group to take over workplaces and it’s estimated they make up around a quarter of the global population. They’ve got their feet well and truly under the table, so you need to know they’re a generation that’s going places – hopefully all within your company, although Sodexo’s research says that’s up for grabs too.
On top of that, we’re working longer and we’re retiring later. It’s very possible that a workplace could have employees aged from 18 to 80 making up their workforce.
Some of industry’s top players are well into their seventies – think Sir Martin Sorrell and Vince Cable, with Richard Branson following hot on their heels at age 67. He might not thank us for saying that of course, but it seems that seventy really is the new sixty, and so on and so forth.
None of us are slowing down like we used to – and employing older workers is good for business, but we’ll get into that later. Point is, times are changing and that affects all of us, one way or another. One thing is for certain, older workers need to get used to the fact that it’s highly likely they will be managed by someone younger than them.
Peter Cappelli, author of ‘Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs’, says this is one of the biggest changes to happen to organisational career structure in the last few decades. He states, “It’s more common to see someone younger managing someone older”.
This can lead to resentment by older workers who may feel like their experience is being undervalued by their employer, as they see themselves being ‘bossed about’ by a younger, less skilled person.
Yet on the other side of the coin, the millennial employee might feel insecure about their role too, wondering if they’re up to the task in hand.
These kinds of worries aren’t going to help anyone to thrive if they go unnoticed by their employers. But if you’re clever and practical about it, you can manage and allay staff concerns when it comes to multi-generational issues in the workplace.
PARENTS ON FLEXI-HOURS, SINGLES NOT
“Why should some people get to go home early just because they have children?”
Employees might not even have asked for flexible working so a bit of mind reading may be at work here, but where you show preference to one set of staff, you can alienate others without even realising it. So how can you engage people who don’t have caring commitments outside of work? Answer is, to engage everyone.
Everybody wants to feel valued.
It’s part and parcel of creating a positive workplace culture. If presenteeism plays a big part in your working world, you run the risk of alienating employees who may not need time off to be at home, but who also want to feel that their commitment is being as valued as the next person’s.
It’s a bit like the old complaint that smokers get more time out of the office than non-smokers. The first port of call should be to look at how you make your staff feel valued every day.
PART-TIME WORKERS DON’T WANT PROMOTION
This is a massive area that’s reported as contributing to the gender pay gap. A hot topic if ever there was one. If you’re not promoting part-time staff because you think they’re quite happy continuing to work at the same level they’re at, it’s time to think again.
Yes, while some people are happy in their part-time roles as it gives them work-life balance that they need, others might be itching to take on more responsibility. This kind of unconscious bias is stalling careers up and down the land.
You don’t want to be limiting people’s aspirations because of a perception based on their life stage and age. It’s just not the way to create people engagement. And as the UK’s workforce becomes more agile and talent retention gets increasingly harder to keep up with, HR Managers must work harder to create workplace engagement for everyone, not just the full-time employees.
WAYS TO ENGAGE EMPLOYEES OF ALL AGES
- Do you have a good employee benefits package? We’re not talking the usual maternity leave and opt-in pension pots here either. Are you showing an interest in employee health and wellbeing at work for example? Do you offer a good amount of holiday or an option for staff to accrue extra time for every year of service?
- Are you being unconsciously biased about benefits? For example, do you think that it’s just younger people who are interested in health-related benefits? As Sodexo’s Iain Thomson, Director of Incentive & Recognition says, “It doesn’t matter who you are - health and economic stability are really important to everyone, not just a select few.”
- On a similar note, are packages the same for everyone, or do you tailor them to the individual? Unlike incentives and rewards, employee benefits tend to apply to everyone in the business, so it’s important to put thought into this. Iain Thomson says “Packages should be inclusive and meaningful…and support every employee, no matter what stage in life they’re at.”
- Do you have innovative policies that reflect your company’s brand or values? For example, days off for staff birthdays can be a really simple benefit to implement but can really help to attract and retain talent. This kind of personalised thinking is something employees want to see – in fact, they absolutely crave it.
- Have you ever reviewed your employee benefits by asking staff what they think of them or what they would like to receive? Do this and you can refresh your offering and create attractive packages that have actual meaning and lasting impact.
- What do you do to reward performance, do you celebrate new business wins or long service for loyal employees? A good rewards and incentives strategy is essential to keep your people performing to a high standard.
MANAGING THE DYNAMIC WORKFORCE
There are three main areas where HR Managers can help their employees to work better together. Get these right, and you’ll have happy employees who want to bring motivational success stories to the table – not squabbles and petty arguments based on personal dissatisfaction.
1. Nurture positive working relationships
Ok, great. Where do we apply, I hear you ask? Well, it’s simple really. As Sodexo’s report states, if you can have earnest, honest conversations with your teams, answer questions and relieve concerns, you can begin to get to know each person’s ambitions, whilst showing them that you’re listening to what they have to say.
- Get your teams together by hosting staff events such as summer parties or away days where colleagues can get to know each other in a more relaxed environment.
- Show you value people by rewarding commitment to the business through long-service awards. Take staff out to a show or for dinner to say thank you – whatever it is – it’s a good opportunity to make people feel good about the business, whilst showcasing its values.
2. Focus on positive collaboration
Different people have different skills, but that shouldn’t mean they’re incompatible. The strongest teams will in fact boast diversity in both skill and experience. If you can create diverse working groups around a project or outcome, you can encourage teamwork that plays to individual’s strengths. This will help teams to bond and forge better working partnerships together.
- Encourage staff to nominate colleagues for going above and beyond the call of duty for a prize or treat.
- Ask employees to contribute to weekly meetings by bringing innovative new ideas to pitch to the team. Give prizes in the form of gift cards and vouchers to those team players whose ideas are put into practice.
3. Encourage peer-to-peer learning
Studies show that colleagues learn more from each other than they do from formal learning. Again, it’s important to avoid unconscious bias, but if you get to know your staff you should be able to pinpoint where these opportunities can take place, thereby connecting the generations in a positive and well-meaning way.
- Provide relevant opportunities for learning and development and help staff to be the best they can be. This will give younger managers a chance to grow in confidence and help older workers to stay secure in their roles, knowing that they are valued, regardless of age or life stage.
AGE IS MORE THAN JUST A NUMBER
As Sodexo’s ‘Generation Game’ report concludes, the world of working is moving quickly. Employee engagement relies on employers adopting forward-thinking approaches to create business success stories via better collaboration, flexible working, ongoing training, enhanced incentives and rewards, staff recognition schemes and sharper processes generally.
Get it right and the ‘Generation Game’ is yours to win. Stamp out any unconscious bias or stereotyping and make everyone feel that they’re valued, and crucially, important to the business.
Key to all of this is putting the individual centre stage. Treat people as the personalities they are and you’ll unlock everyone’s potential to grow your business and take it to the next level. Sounds good to us…