Navigating the generation game in the workplace

Navigating the generation game in the workplace

Admit it. If you’re old enough to remember buying music on CD, you’ve probably given side-eye to that 20-something in the office who is “working” with earbuds in while also tapping frantically on their smartphone.

Are they really “multi-tasking”, or just skiving? And how on earth can they concentrate with music on?

There’s no denying younger people can work very differently to, say, the Baby Boomer generation. And with the state pension age on an upward trajectory, for the first time in living memory there are four generations in many workplaces.

This can cause headaches for employers who don’t yet understand each generation’s differing needs. “Boomers”, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z have demands that can be poles apart – sometimes leading to workplace tensions, or worse.

If someone feels unfairly treated by their employer due to age, they could potentially claim discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. One colleague making ageist comments to another could even be seen as harassment on grounds of age under the Act.

So how do we avoid these pitfalls and create a workplace where everyone can thrive?

Younger generations are increasingly seeking a socially and environmentally conscious employer, who genuinely cares about mental health, wellbeing and development. Having grown up with social media, they’re used to instant feedback and value recognition. If they don’t get what they want, they often find a new job.

Boomers often prefer a more structured environment and can be fountains of in-depth knowledge. But chronic health problems are more likely for this generation, leading to potential absence management issues.

In the middle, Generation Xers are usually conscientious and willing to embrace change, but also more likely to be juggling caring responsibilities, or have perimenopause symptoms, which can lead to burnout if not carefully managed.

Something uniting all generations is a desire for flexibility. This might mean more home-working for the Gen X parent, or flexi-time to the Gen Z who wants to party earlier than 5.30pm on a Friday.

All this is a lot to manage, but if we can all just get along, there are many positives to a wider generational pool. Who better to keep up with the pace of technological change than a Gen Z colleague, while older generations share their knowledge with younger co-workers?

Employers can do a lot to aid intergenerational office harmony. It’s essential – as a bare minimum – to have fit-for-purpose policies and procedures that all employees have been given bespoke training on. From a legal perspective, these must be applied as equally as possible to everyone.

Creating a menu of flexible benefits, so each generation has choice and nobody feels unfairly disadvantaged by age, is worth considering. It’s important not to exclude anyone from any perk.

Reverse mentoring, where junior staff can share skills with senior colleagues, can effectively build generational bonds. Workplace events, like carer-positive sessions, can help people learn what matters to colleagues, increasing empathy.

No matter what support you bring in, if someone – whatever the generation – thinks it’s fantastic, that’s another happy employee who’s likely to stick around.

For further advice on navigating the generation game in the workplace, or any employment law queries, get in touch with Chris McDowall or any of our Employment Team members.

This article is featured in The Herald and can be viewed here.

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