5 Insights we gained this week about multi-generational workplaces

HRM online

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written on July 16, 2015

Chances are that in both your personal and professional lives, you interact with people from multiple generations on any given day. As Australia’s workplaces become more diverse, that diversity extends to age – on both ends of the spectrum.

Two recently released studies – the PwC Golden Age Index and the 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey – shed some light on how workplaces are adapting to changing age demographics. Here are some things we gleaned from these surveys, and some ideas about what you can do to make your workplace one for all ages.

1. Australia is getting better at engaging older employees …

… But there is still some work to be done on harnessing their potential. On a global scale, Australia jumped from 20th place in 2003 to 15th in 2015 when it comes to engaging older staff, with roughly 60 per cent of people aged 55-64 employed. New Zealand currently sits second with roughly 70 per cent of people in that age range employed. PwC estimates that if Australia can reach a similar level of engagement, the nominal GDP will jump by an average of more than $20 billion per year. So how do you keep older workers engaged?

Start by acknowledging any biases you might have. Some perceive hiring older workers as a barrier to the progression of younger staff, while others might feel awkward about managing an employee who is older than them. Instead, think about how you can use the experience of an older employee within your organisation. Taking a collaborative approach has benefits for managers, and makes older employees feel they are being heard and valued at work.

2. Retaining older workers is an excellent investment

Not only do older workers have many years of work experience under their belts, but they are also, generally speaking, more satisfied with their jobs and remain employed because they want to, not because they have to. Increased satisfaction means older workers are less likely to job hop or leave for greener pastures.

This loyalty makes them great candidates for training programs and skills development. It is frustrating to spend time and money developing an employee, only to have them leave after a short time. Older workers stay with one organisation for an average of 10 years, so think about ways you can continue to develop their skills so your investment stays close to home. This relationship also runs both ways – older employees have strong professional and client networks, which can give your organisation a competitive edge.

3. What millennials value in employees and what they think businesses value doesn’t always match

Deloitte’s survey found that millennials highly favour personal attributes over technical skills. When asked “Which skills and attributes do you think businesses place the most value on?” they gave answers such as financial/economic acumen, leadership and technology skills. However, when asked which skills they would look for in a potential employee, millennials overwhelmingly responded with flexibility, personal traits (e.g. integrity, creativity, etc.) and professionalism.

Therefore, when thinking about how to diversify your workforce by employing younger workers, don’t think in terms of targeting millennials, but more in terms of how you can change the work culture and management style of your organisation to naturally appeal to this generation. According to this research, younger workers look for flexible approaches to work, regular feedback and reassurance that their work adds value.

4. Development and work-life balance are more important than financial reward

After the economic turmoil of the last few years, millennials have begun reconsidering what rewards they want from employers for their hard work. Ninety-five per cent of millennials surveyed said work-life balance was important to them, and 70 per cent said it was very important. But 28 per cent also said that the balance they have achieved at work is worse than they expected.

One way employers can mitigate this situation is to be clear during the hiring process about what is expected from them and what they can expect from the organisation or business in return. This can help prevent younger employees from entering work with unrealistic expectations. Traditionally, working long hours is associated with productivity, but that isn’t always the case. Adopting a system where employees are rewarded by results rather than time worked, or where employees have a choice of when and where they complete their work, can help alleviate some of these issues.

5. Older and younger workers are pretty great at working together

Research has shown that rather than create tension, putting older and younger workers together helps both age groups perform better. Because both cohorts are at different stages in their lives, each has something to offer the other. As a result, they are less competitive with each other than workers in the same age group might be.

To take advantage of this wealth of knowledge within your organisation, think about how you can create opportunities for cross-generational mentoring. Employees tend to learn more from each other than from formal training programs, so reverse or reciprocal mentoring programs could be beneficial. Mixed-age work teams are another way to increase communication and collaboration between people from different generations.

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