Employee Experience

Five different generations in the workforce – what could possibly go wrong?

4 Mins read

In today’s dynamic workplace, a fascinating convergence is happening in offices up and down the land. For the first time ever, there is five distinct generations fuelling innovation and driving success:

  • baby boomers
  • generation X
  • millennials
  • generation Z and
  • generation alpha.

This multi-generational landscape poses unique opportunities for employers. However, it also presents daunting challenges.

It is happening at a time when the working world – partly due to the pandemic – is simply unrecognisable to that in the past. Traditional lines have blurred. Today, 20-year-olds can be managers and 50-year-olds interns. Technology has, of course, played a part in the acceleration. The prevalence of remote working in recent years, for example, simply wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago.

To ensure their organisations remain relevant and competitive, HR leaders need to lean into the differences between the various generations and understand the commonalities.

Pay versus purpose

Our recent People at Work 2023 study highlighted several distinct differences between the generations. One of the most telling was that a massive pay cheque is no longer the panacea for many. Younger workers, in particular, are looking for purpose rather than pure salary. Generation Z, for example, increasingly want to do work that they feel makes a difference. They want to work for an employer they believe in and want a diverse and inclusive culture in the office. They are more interested in a flexibility in working hours (36%) than job security (32%). 

Millennials and Generation X, meanwhile, are a different beast. Almost seven-in-ten (69%) of Gen X and 63% of millennials crave a competitive salary, and just over half (52%) of Gen X and 49% of millennials want job security. In many ways, these generations sit at the crossroads between the old and the new. They grew up without much of the technology that is prevalent today. This means they communicate much differently to generation Z and are just as likely to pick up the phone to speak to a colleague as to use Slack. 

Baby Boomers don’t clock watch and prefer to keep their head down. Yes, they want a competitive salary (62%), but they also want to enjoy their work (59%). They likely use the office printer but don’t trust the cloud. Whilst often overlooked by employers, they are highly loyal due to them coming from a time when workers were ‘lifers’. 

A deep difference of opinion

Whilst the five generations clash on several fronts, one of the most notable is on remote working. There seems to be a deep reaching difference of opinion. Over one in four (41%) of generation Z are dissatisfied with the flexibility of hours offered by their current employer and 35% the flexibility of location. Whereas 57% of baby boomers are happy with the flexibility of hours and location offered. The dissatisfaction of the younger generations mustn’t be ignored by HR leaders. Far less loyal than older workers, many have gone on record saying they would consider looking for a new job if their employer ordered them to work from an office full-time. 

Part of the reason for this is that younger generations see their personal life and work life as fully intertwined. Whilst a baby boomer wouldn’t dream of sharing details of their personal life to their colleagues, generation alpha has grown up at a time when every meal they eat is shared on the internet for all to see. 

Finding common ground

Whilst there are deep-rooted differences between how generations who grew up with the internet, and those who didn’t, live and work, it is important that HR leaders find common ground. To do this, they should work hard to align strategies around values, psychological safety, recognition, benefits, wellbeing, career opportunities and job fulfilment. 

With the cost-of-living crisis putting increased pressure on many workers, it has never been more important that staff are paid correctly, and on time. However, 31% of generation Z and 21% of millennials say they are sometimes underpaid. Further, over half, Gen Z 49% and millennials 52%, say they have experienced an incorrect payment (such as a failed payment or an incorrect tax code) in the past 12 months. This needs to change.

five different generations 2

The need for a tailored approach

Britain’s offices are, for the first time, populated with workforces of five different generations. Baby boomers, generation X, millennials, generation Z, and generation alpha each bring unique experiences and perspectives, forming an extraordinary melting pot of talent. Yet, each generation has differing motivations and needs.

In today’s multi-generational workplace, effectively managing talent has become increasingly crucial. A robust Human Capital Management (HCM) system plays a vital role in this aspect. Instead of merely instructing HR leaders to adopt a more personalised approach, we should empathise with their need for additional time to implement such strategies. 

By equipping them with accurate data to monitor employees’ training sessions and career aspirations, as well as mapping the skills gap in the organisation, an advanced HCM system empowers HR leaders to address generational-related challenges effectively. This holistic and integrated approach fosters a cohesive and thriving work environment, driving organisational success and employee satisfaction.

To further unlock the myriad benefits of a multi-generational workforce, HR leaders will also need to take a more tailored and personal approach to people recruitment, reward, and retention. This could include, for example, conducting regular surveys and one-on-one discussions (with employees and prospects) to understand individual needs and aspirations and then tailoring programs and activities accordingly. 

By adopting this personalised and empathetic approach, HR leaders can create a more inclusive and engaged workforce, fostering collaboration and productivity among employees of different generations. With the right approach, tools, training and continuous learning, individuals from each generation can flourish at work; now and in the future.

Further Reading

6 Tips to Boost Employee Engagement
Direct vs. Indirect workplace discrimination
How Cybersecurity Threatens Employee Wellbeing?

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