September 20, 2023

Multigenerational workforce HR Strategy

Multigenerational workforce HR Strategy
Multigenerational workforce HR Strategy

In today’s multigenerational workforce, HR strategy has a critical role to play in equipping an organisation for success. With many sectors facing skills shortages and high attrition, satisfying the competing demands of different generations is not a background problem. Current and future leadership on multigenerational workforce issues has never been more important. It is the opportunity that needs to be seized.

It’s no secret that workforces has been reeling from mass retirement, migration changes and a generation of younger people that is harder to retain.

The result is a world of talent scarcity, high attrition and intergenerational conflict. The media is awash with stories of a younger generation that is career-mobile but also more despairing of its prospects, and an older generation that feels it has always provided the loyalty demanded but now feels overlooked.

There is a need for a more strategic approach to workforce planning, talent acquisition and development in the UK. And it is one that puts multigenerational workforce strategy at its heart.

Benefits of a multigeneration workforce

The main benefit of multigeneration workforce strategy is building and retaining more of the capability and capacity your organisation needs. It is also allows you to develop more diverse and well-rounded leadership talent across your organisation leading to better decision-making.

But it also offers a plethora of other advantages including:

In essence, a multi-generational workforce acts as a formidable asset, weaving together the strength of experience with the vitality of youth. Organisations that harness this blend can navigate the ever-evolving corporate landscape with agility and foresight. It’s all about HR Strategy.

Understanding multigenerational workforce needs is about understanding context

In today’s workplace, it’s not uncommon to see a blend of generations – Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z – working side by side. But what defines these generations isn’t the cartoonish and often offensive personas projected in the media. In other words, attracting and retaining them is not about free avocado toast for the young, discretionary Facebook time for the middle-aged or Wetherspoon’s discount vouchers for the older. It’s important to appreciate that, above all, your teams are comprised of individuals, and individuals are, well… their own person.

Rather, what unites a generation is not some kind of group-personality but a context: what it means to be someone that age today, the distinct needs, challenges, opportunities afforded and opportunities missed that flow from that context.

Challenges of a Multi-generational Workforce

While there are numerous benefits to having a diverse age range within a team, it’s essential to be mindful of the potential challenges that can accompany such diversity:

Generational Stereotypes

Misconceptions and biases about different age groups can lead to tension. Younger employees might be perceived as entitled or impatient, while older ones could be seen as out-of-touch or resistant to innovation. While some of your workforce may reflect their age stereotype at times, most will not. It cannot be the case that any young person requesting something must be viewed as unreasonable or that any older worker challenging a new way of doing things must be stuck in their ways. Dismissing concerns based on generational stereotypes leads to lost opportunity and drives a wedge between employee and employer. And that’s important because what retains and motivates employees is making them feel like part of the organisation, it’s one of the most important non-financial rewards you can offer.

Diverse Motivational Drivers

Of course, there are many other diverse motivations for employees and these can tend to break along generational lines. What motivates a Baby Boomer might be vastly different from what drives a Gen Z. Again this is driven by generational circumstances rather than personality. For example, an older worker is more likely to be interested in salary sacrifice schemes that benefits their pension over similar schemes for exciting new cars. Again they may not. What’s best is tailoring incentives, rewards and recognition to individuals to cater for the wide range of motivational drivers . Total rewards strategies are often a good approach, enabling workers to tailor their own rewards package to their unique circumstances and drivers. In effect, each employee at the same level has the same total reward but they can choose themselves how much goes into the schemes and other rewards they want, and how much of it they take as pay. (See our article on reward strategies)

Varying Communication Styles

Different generations often have distinct communication preferences. While Baby Boomers might be more comfortable with face-to-face interactions or formal memos, Millennials and Gen Z have grown up in a different communications environment and might prefer digital platforms, like Slack or Zoom. This disparity can sometimes lead to misunderstandings or communication breakdowns. In all cases, these preferences are bred by familiarity and skills developed so far and by extension, the attendant problems arise from a lack of experience and expertise in other methods.

Technological Proficiency

There’s a view that younger generations, having grown up in a digital age, tend to be more tech-savvy. This may once have been true but it isn’t any longer. Even a 65-year old worker today will have been in their 30s when email gained mass adoption in the 90s. Working email, the internet and other computer applications then was all harder than using modern applications today. In this sense, some of your older workers are likely to some of your most tech-savvy people. And while it is true that the mind does lose some elasticity as it ages, making it harder to learn new things, the brain still has an astonishing ability to learn and master new skills. What is certainly true is that we become more skeptical as we age. Older workers will have seen many new technologies come and go, and will have heard many others vaunted as the next big thing only for them to be found dead on arrival. It is much harder to convince an older worker to invest time in learning and understanding a new tool if the things they are being told are, “It’s cool”, “It’s going to change the world” and “Our competitors are using it”. They’ve heard it all before and they’re not interested in the next Betamax, laserdisc, Segway or HD-DVD of the business world. Of course, on some occasions, new technologies genuinely are the next big thing and early adoption can translate into first mover advantage. This divides a multigenerational workforce between those passionate about the potential of the new and those who place their trust in the tested and proven. Ultimately, this can hinder productivity and lead to frustrations.

Differing Work Ethic Perceptions

There can be varied perceptions about work ethic and commitment. For instance, older generations might value long hours at the office as a sign of dedication, while younger ones could prioritize work-life balance and flexibility. Different ideals of what good looks like in terms behaviours can be at war in your organisation, leading to unnecessary conflict and friction when all you really care about is the actual productivity and the discretionary effort to fix problems that are being ignored.

Multigenerational workforce resistance to change

Older employees, having followed certain methodologies and practices for years, can be resistant to change, though conversely they can sometimes be the biggest proponents of fixing a broken system they’ve hated for years where younger colleagues have not the experience to see the issues. Conversely, younger employees have a reputation for seeking rapid innovation, but sometimes without fully understanding and assessing the implications and negative impacts. Resistance to change is a complex issue and it’s important not to look at it as a simple formula of: young good, old bad. What’s needed is a holistic approach that brings the strengths of different generations together. After all, it must not be forgotten that while the young may more readily support change, they will be looking to respected seasoned colleagues for reassurance when shepherding the changes through. In short, you need to have everyone onboard and deal with a variety of different reasons for resisting change.

Knowledge-sharing in a multigenerational workforce

While older generations may possess vast industry knowledge, they might face challenges in imparting this knowledge, especially if they are not acquainted with the latest training tools or platforms. Younger workers whose experience of education included interactive whiteboards, modular learning, online collaboration tools and multimedia resources are not going to be amenable to lectures and death by powerpoint. This can flow the other way too, younger workers trying to explain new technologies and techniques do not have the experience of presenting and storytelling that older workers do, and all may struggle to put themselves “in the shoes” of different generations to ensure their communication and content truly lands.

Varied Career Goals and Aspirations

Each generation will have different career trajectories and end goals for their employment. For instance, while one might value job stability and long tenure, another could prioritize varied experiences and frequent role changes. Equally, given different generations have been afforded different opportunities and experiences, they may take a strong stance on another’s expectations and aspirations without fully understanding their situation. This can lead to situations where what pleases one generation is seen as unfair to another.

Addressing these challenges requires empathy, open communication, and tailored strategies. By understanding and acknowledging these potential hurdles, leaders can foster a harmonious, productive environment that leverages the strengths of each generation while mitigating the challenges.

Here are some insights from our UK-based HR experts on overseeing a multi-generational workforce.

Insights on effective multigenerational workforce harmony

When planning your strategy, it is important to keep these elements in mind:

Respect and open communication

It’s paramount to comprehend, acknowledge and respect the diverse generations, realising that their principles may diverge from yours or other team members. But, avoid generalising. Every member, despite their age group, is unique with distinct views, experiences, and ways of communicating.

Line managers must be equipped to forge trust and respect by engaging in effective one-on-one dialogues with team members. This approach facilitates a deeper understanding of optimal communication methods and how to maximise each person’s potential.

Feedback is a gift

Active listening remains a pivotal managerial skill to develop in your leaders – we must always remember that communication is bi-directional.

Solicit feedback from your teams about their perception of managerial styles. It can be illuminating to discover that methods effective for one generation might not resonate with another. Frequently check on their job satisfaction and understand their evolving career aspirations.

Managers need to be equipped to gain feedback through various methods both formal and informal, from casual daily interactions, routine check-ins or pulse surveys, performance reviews and 360-degree evaluations.

Multigenerational reward and recognition

Different generations often value different benefits differently, often influenced by their life stage. For instance, policies related to fertility benefits or parental leave might appeal to those between 20 to 40 years old. Conversely, individuals over 50 might prioritise sabbaticals, travel opportunities, or part-time roles.

If your organisation offers a bonus scheme, ensure it promotes productivity and retains talent across all age brackets. It’s essential that both senior and junior team members feel equally valued. In fact, feeling valued and part of the team is one of the most overlooked rewards for your employees and probably the greatest non-financial reward you can provide.

In everyday interactions, providing constructive feedback is key. Recognise that individuals might have distinct preferences for feedback; some might prefer private praise, while others appreciate public acknowledgment. The key is for managers to stay attuned to these cultural, generational and individual preferences.

Multigenerational workforce collaboration

One of the most significant advantages of a multi-generational team is the learning opportunities across age groups. Younger colleagues can benefit from the seasoned experience of their older counterparts, aiding their professional growth. Conversely, senior employees can tap into the fresh perspectives and contemporary skills of younger generations and feel that their experience and insight is valued by the organisation.

When feasible, introducing more opportunities for collaboration can be immensely rewarding. By matching individuals from diverse age groups, the exchange of ideas and perspectives can flourish, cultivating a cohesive team spirit. This can also help bridge gaps across race, gender, socio-economic background, geographical location and more, fostering inclusivity, growth, and transformation.

Multigenerational workforce mentoring

One great opportunity for inter-generational interaction is mentoring. Studies indicate that tailored employee mentorship is a robust strategy for leading a multi-generational team. As this approach is individualised, it caters to every member, irrespective of their age or seniority.

Employee mentorship assists in honing both technical and interpersonal competencies, offering direction in career progression and bolstering company allegiance.

This strategy is not only conducive to a harmonious work environment but it’s also highly sought after. For instance, some studies reveal that a whopping 71% of Gen Z participants value opportunities to work alongside mentors and coaches.

Focus on Local Talent:

With uncertainties around migration and talent flow due to geopolitical changes such as Brexit, there is increased emphasis on nurturing and developing local talent. This means greater investments in education, training and apprenticeship programmes that reach right across an organisation and its sites.

Gain support with multigenerational workforce strategy

Our HR Consultancy services can aid you with creating a harmonious, productive environment that attracts, retains and leverages the strengths of each generation while mitigating the challenges. Get in touch today!

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