Adapting for multi-generational teams

How to manage an age diverse workforce is critical today and into the future. Steve Butler shows us how to understand the multi-generational workplace


A demographic revolution is taking place across British workforces. It’s becoming common for multi-generations of employees to be working together with people in their 20s and 30s through to those in their 60, 70s and even 80s, which is creating new management challenges.

By 2025, one million more people 50 and over and 300,000 fewer people 30 and under will be in the workplace. Today, 19% of the population is aged 65 and over. In ten years, this will have increased to 22%.

With fewer young people entering the workforce in the next couple of decades – retaining them in an increasingly competitive market will be vital. At the same time, keeping the over 50s in the workplace so not to lose vital skills and experience is a priority.

Anticipating the potential for discord and proactively working out what each employee needs and treating them as individuals is a must 


Few businesses are ready for these demographic changes. The Centre for Ageing Better found that only one in five employers are discussing the ageing workforce strategically.
But employers will need to face up to the challengers sooner rather than later. Especially given multigenerational, inclusive workforces are the future, according to 83% of global executives surveyed by AARP – and seen as the key to growth and long-term success.

Different generations are likely to have different skills, assets and attitudes towards work and how companies manage these differences will be critical. It will affect the training employers give, the benefits they offer, the hours they work and the way they should work together, so companies will have to adapt to accommodate everyone and find new ways to create effective multi-generational teams. 

Understanding your people
To successfully manage an age-diverse workforce, employers need to acknowledge how the mindsets and life experiences of different generations affect how they approach their work and working together. 

The rift between the post-1980 digital generations compared with the preceding analogue ones is something that can’t be underestimated. The under 45-year-old ‘digital workers’ will have very different attitudes and mind-sets to the over 45s ‘analogue workers’. For example, an analogue man in his fifties will be very different from a female digital employee in their 30s. Both may be hugely talented, with all the skills the business needs, but when it comes to how they approach work, they are likely to be chalk and cheese. 

The analogue probably comes to work dressed smartly, gets in on time, likes his own desk and carries himself as someone who has been around the block more than once. However, he has kept pace with change and has a set of skills and understanding about his area the business values. The digital on the other hand is a classic Millennial. She may not work nine to five; however, she’s still emailing the CEO with ideas at eleven o’clock at night. She’s happiest not at her desk but slouched on a sofa in a breakout zone with her laptop and headphones on. She wants the business to have a mission. She thrives on teamwork and collaboration and craves feedback. She flouts the management structure and is always asking her manager to give her direction and talk about next steps.

A manager may think the two have complimentary skills and decide to put them together to work on a project, expecting it all to go well but instead, the opposite happens. They both end up complaining they can’t work with the other. This is a classic example of different generations coming to loggerheads because they have clashing attitudes and outlooks. Neither is going to change that much, so the manager will have to find workarounds to make it possible for them to collaborate. 

Anticipating the potential for discord and proactively working out what each employee needs and treating them as individuals is a must. Here are some practical ways that businesses can manage an intergenerational workforce.

Age diversity is a positive 
Having a mixed-age workforce makes for a more successful business and employers must work towards creating an age-diverse culture that embraces this. They need to help employees understand there are enormous benefits to working in a multi-generational environment, even though people may work in different ways. To make this happen, employers need to build in working practices that accommodate people’s different behaviours and values.

Life’s not just about work
From the employee’s perspective, these days it’s all about work-life balance, for younger cohorts especially, but also for older workers whom businesses hope to retain. There’s plenty that companies can do to make their organisation attractive for a generation of people who work to live rather than live to work. Companies need to be mindful that it’s not just about the salary and ensure their employee value proposition matches expectations. 

Be flexible
People of all ages want (and often need) to accommodate other pressures and activities in their lives. Offering greater flexibility around the working week is one area that organisations can start to create a level playing field across the generations. They could look at offering part-time working, flexi hours or hybrid working. The pandemic after all proved this could work. Offering sabbaticals for long serving workers is also another option

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ 
Businesses must recognise everyone is an individual, with different personal needs and aspirations. Understanding intergenerational differences is vital in ensuring they are offering the right employee benefits for their workforce. A ‘one size fits all’ approach to employee benefits is no longer appropriate and companies must know which benefits will appeal to whom and tailor their packages accordingly. Employers should ask themselves what they want their future workplace demographic to look like and build a rewards and benefits package that will work for them.  

Don’t assume
To recruit the best people employers mustn’t make assumptions about who can bring something special to the business. Age should never be a barrier – at either end of the spectrum – and neither should work gaps or experience in different spheres.

Keep communicating with employees
To create a cohesive multi-generational workforce, let employees know what the business is thinking and listen to what they want to say. This is best achieved by using different communication channels and adapting messages to suit the different age groups.

Give employees the opportunities to learn  
Give employees the chance to constantly learn, grow and develop new skills. It’s likely that some jobs in the future may become obsolete, but businesses will want to retain loyal and talented staff.

To conclude 
Intergenerational teams bring both challenges and opportunities. Businesses must work out how to best enable people of all ages to complement each other’s skills and assets, whilst ironing out generational differences in attitudes, priorities and approaches to work. Those that do will gain a serious competitive edge, not only in recruiting and retaining talented people but also in meeting the needs of their clients and customers. 

Steve Butler has written four books including: Midlife Review: A guide to work, wealth and wellbeing and Manage the Gap: Achieving success with intergenerational teams 



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