1. Home>
  2. Resources>
  3. HR>

Multigenerational workforce; are the differences a myth?

At the SD Worx European Conference, held at the Park Lane Hilton on Tuesday 6 February, a panel of six individuals from different generations gave their thoughts on age-based stereotypes, their personal values, career aspirations, the challenges they’ve encountered and what, if anything, can be done to address the differences between the age brackets within the workplace. 

    Workplace preference

    What struck me most after listening to the very engaging group discussion, expertly facilitated by Naga Munchetty, was that there didn’t seem to be any distinguishable difference between the generations. Certainly, there are generational traits, which is to be expected due to the circumstances in which people have grown up in and the working environment they entered into; so, whilst a “traditionalist” may prefer to read a printed paper document, that is not to say that they don’t also enjoy the benefits of “real time” communication via social media… something the panel brought to life with iGen, Gen X, Boomer and Traditionalist all expressing a preference for communicating via WhatsApp!

    Equally, not all Gen 2020 workers want to flit from role to role, moving on at the first sign of something shiny and new on the horizon. Indeed, this point was clearly called out by Gen 2020 representative, Leanne Talbot, a 19-year-old Guest Experience Supervisor at Odeon “I fell in love with work… I want to stay at Odeon forever – there are so many different options for me, I’m learning new things all the time, I know that the Company appreciate me and have my best interests at heart. I’m really happy and content where I am.”

      No age-based stereotypes

      There’s no denying that we’re currently in a world of rapid flux; with new technologies, innovations and ways of working being introduced at an ever-quicker pace, it can be difficult for people to keep up. But, is this a challenge for the generations, or just a general challenge for all ages? Vickie Pooley, Reward and Payroll Manager at WHSmith, representing Gen X, stated that when rolling out online payslips across the group there was a pre-conceived idea that the older generations would not take kindly to the change and that they should be prepared for initial resistance, but this never materialised. Her lessons learned are that you must be plan for obstacles and challenges, but that age-based stereotypes must not be the basis for them; “We need to be careful we don’t stereotype generations or people, we’re all individuals.”

      A mix of experience and youthful energy can be an invigorating mix, helping organisations get the best of both worlds. Henry Tapper, First Actuarial, representing the Boomers stated, “The diversity of conversation within the workplace, with the mix of generations is enlightening – I value and cherish youngsters, they’re the ones who bring the new ideas.” Pip Campbell, the youngest member of the panel at 15 and yet to start work, was representing the iGen. Pip had recently spent time in an SD Worx office on work-experience placement: “I was a bit apprehensive about what a working environment would be like, as I’m very creative and was unsure about how I could translate this into a role. But, I was encouraged to bring creative thoughts and ideas into my work placement, I always felt valued and I appreciated the chance to be listened to.”

        Flexible, equal and fairer world of work

        Stuart Hetherington, CRF, representing the Traditionalists stated “I wish I was 15, there is so much to look forward to. I’ve had a good life, I worked in the same organisation in numerous roles over 40 years, it’s just what we did back then. But, I am still passionate about working, I’m more flexible and pick and choose what I do, but I enjoy the interaction with people and I like to keep involved.”

        As well as discussing the age-based conundrums faced in the workplace, the panel also addressed the pressures of being in a tech heavy world, and how it is easier than ever for the lines between work and home life to be blurred. Rebecca Fleming, Commercial Manager at Costain, representing the Millennials, stated “It’s so easy to have work with you at all times, you have your laptop at home, you get emails and calls on your mobile, it’s difficult to switch off. As a new mother, I know how important a healthy work/life balance is. We’ve set a rule that we can’t send emails to colleagues after 5.30pm unless it’s urgent…we knew we couldn’t stop people reading them, so we stopped people sending them instead. It’s all about having respect for home life.”

        The panel concurred that there does seem to have been a step change towards a more transparent, equal and fairer world of work, Rebecca added “We’ve moved on to be a lot more inclusive. Documents within my workplace have historically referred to employees in the male terms and these have all recently been updated to be gender neutral” as Rebecca works within the predominantly male construction industry, this was a big step forward. Leanne mentioned that she had battled a lot with people being ageist “People do joke about my age, but I don’t want to be defined by my age, I want people to look at my skills and attributes” and Stuart added “When I started work, everyone knew what everyone else was paid as there were published pay scales, then privatisation came in, and people looked after number one and that’s when the pay divide started to happen. It’s good that we’re moving back to a more transparent working environment.”

          The key is collaboration

          With information available 24/7 at your fingertips, it’s understandable that people are more confident in expressing their views and feel empowered to make positive changes. The stereotypes of the past, seem to be less and less socially acceptable, Pip said “My generation is probably the most touchy, we get very easily offended. But that’s because I think we have a greater voice and we’re not afraid to speak up if something isn’t right. Some people may say that we are too PC now, but if something would offend people, why would you want to say it.”

          Throughout the conversation, it became evident that generalising groups of the population based on age-specific stereotypes was inappropriate and inaccurate. People are individuals, who should be treated as such, yes employers must look at diverse ways to approach challenges and adopt the most suitable solution, but these decisions should not be based on age demographics and the associated perceived perceptions. I think Stuart articulated the point brilliantly “I’m sitting here listening to everyone talk, I’m thinking, this is nothing new, there were five generations in the workplace when I started my working life, all with differing ways of doing things, but we worked it out – why are we so precious about it now, why do we feel the need to label things?”

          It’s clear from the discussion that to get the most out of all employees, no matter what their ages, the key is to create an engaging, inclusive environment where people are encouraged to bring their ideas, share their knowledge and work collaboratively together, being fairly recognised for their contribution.

          The voice of the future working generation is one I’ll look forward to hearing and working alongside “respect each other, be friendly, be familiar – this is how people can get along. Interactions are so important.” Pip Campbell, aged 15.