The shock result of the recent federal election to some degree demonstrates the unpredictable nature of a changing demographic and the uncertainty caused by a population with widely disparate demographics. The same is true for an organisation vis-à-vis their employees, although on a much smaller scale. That being said, the challenges now faced by employers who need to contend with a workforce that is not only multi-cultural but also multi-generational are complex and real.
Given the fact that so many employees are now forced to remain in employment far longer than the traditional retirement age, and the fact that the number of older Australia’s who are still active and want to work is growing, employers may well have employees who range in age from the late teens to the late 70s or even 80s. How does an employer ensure that it meets the varying needs of such a divergent workforce whilst also taking care to create a cohesive and engaged group of employees? It is not uncommon for our firm to receive complaints from employees and employers alike to the effect that the employee is not able to adapt to changing technologies, or does not wish to change they way they work (all indications that the employer wants to remove the relevant employee because they are too old).
On the employee side, we often hear that the employer does not value the employee’s skills and experience, or that the employee feels isolated from social and other office interactions. The issues are not limited to issues with an older workforce. We also often hear concerns raised regarding the lack of commitment displayed by younger workers, or the fact that they want to be rewarded now despite not proving themselves. The Millennial’s are often maligned for their lack of loyalty. So, what can an employer do to ensure that it can successfully engage with employees of all ages and walks of life, and what are the issues and opportunities that should be the focus for any progressive workplace?
There are predominately four generations co-existing in today’s workplace and each generation have different beliefs, values, expectations and communication styles when it comes to the workplace. The generations most likely present in your workplace include:
- Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964
- Generation X – born between 1965 and 1976
- Generation Y (also referred to as Millennials) – born between 1977 to 1994
- Generation Z – born between 1995 -2012
Breaking the multigenerational barriers:
There is no doubt that employers must adjust the style of management to improve effectiveness among differing generations. This requires businesses to educate themselves and address the needs of all ages within the respective workplaces. Some of the factors we believe businesses should be reviewing to ensure they are effectively engaging their workforce include:
Company Culture and Motivation
In today’s age, keeping an employee happy means more than simply offering the right salary. Employers need to consider how they can best motivate their workforce. Motivating employees usually means creating a company culture that supports everyone’s ideals and goals. One way of doing this could be to include benefits and flexible working strategies that cater to everyone and allow different generations to pursue different aims in their careers. For example, younger workers may consider volunteer opportunities or a flexible working environment allowing them to work anywhere, anytime an important benefit in a workplace, whereas, older workers may prefer flexible work arrangements or the opportunity to scale back to part time positions. To make this work, an employer needs to create a workplace environment that is flexible enough to suit everyone across all age groups and a culture that supports flexibility.
Furthermore, creating teambuilding opportunities will make a difference for multi-generational workforces because it will assist employees to understand and build on individual strengths while also building trust and respect among the team. For example, group brainstorming activities or celebrating success as a team can have a positive effect on how different generations interact with one another.
In addition, many businesses find that by creating team building opportunities allows for younger employees to understand the value and experience older employees can contribute to achieving the company’s goals and will also assist older employees in learning and valuing newer technologies from their younger colleagues. In particular, we have heard about employers pairing up young and older employees in a reverse mentoring scheme so younger tech-savvy employees can assist more senior employees with technology, while older employees share knowledge on social skills, negotiation strategy or sharing their networks.
It is also important to ensure the business continues to upskill their older employees, so they have the skills and confidence to adapt with a changing workplace. In turn, this will contribute to establishing an environment that supports the retention of mature workers.
Communication is fundamental for any workforce. In this regard, being able to successfully manage your team requires knowing how to effectively communicate to each generation. Older employees usually prefer a more formal communication style or an in-person conversation, whereas Generation Y and Z prefer informal and online communication. As such, it is important to understand the individual communication styles of your employees and how they approach work.
Accordingly, if you can successfully communicate with your team as well as influence different generations to learn from each other, and find a mutual language, then as a business you will see significant benefits. It is important to remember that just because different generations may communicate differently, does not mean that they are incapable of communicating or working together.
Key Learnings for Employers
Leveraging each generation’s unique strengths, creating a supportive work environment which promotes inclusion and enabling different generations to learn from each other will create a more creative, innovative and collaborative working environment. Accordingly, we strongly recommend employers consider how they may break down barriers in their multigenerational workforce.
In this regard, some key lessons for employers include:
- Consider and understand which generations are currently in your workforce;
- Consider creating an employee engagement survey or opportunity for group discussions to understand what your employees’ value and want in their workplace and/or roles;
- Consider a mix of face to face and digital communication to suit all generations;
- Consider any additional benefits the business may be prepared to offer (e.g. flexible working environment, paid leave to look after an aging parent, volunteer opportunities, etc);
- Consider how the business may encourage teambuilding activities or cross-generational mentoring opportunities to build trust and respect between employees;
- Ensure each employee understands their responsibilities as well as each person’s responsibilities on team projects so there is an understanding of the collective skill base required to complete specific tasks or projects;
- Provide individual support and encouragement to each employee so they feel the business is supporting them to achieve their career goals;
- Ensure upskilling and refresher training is offered to older employees and support them through that process; and
- Actively promote a workplace culture that embraces individuality, inclusion, flexibility and a multi-generational workforce.
If you wish to discuss any aspect of this article or require our specialist advice or assistance in relation to an employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.
This alert is not intended to constitute, and should not be treated as, legal advice.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please also note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.