Jo Geraghty


Embracing the Generations

Date added: 30th Nov 2014
Category: Employee Engagement

Looking at the challenges & rewards of cross-generational employees

How do you see the pattern of working life?  Does progression flow inexorably from junior trainee up through the ranks until it comes to rest at a point which remains constant for the rest of working time?  Or perhaps it is more of a hop-scotch affair with short rushes forward interspersed with leaps from job to job, from one challenge to another?

Whatever your viewpoint, it is likely to have been shaken up by the twin challenges of Generation Y and technological advancements.  And if you thought that the boundaries had been stretched enough, just wait until technological reform really plays out and Generation Z hits the workforce.

Let’s start with technological advancements.  We are now at a stage in which the majority of office-based tasks can equally be performed at the top of a mountain as in the corporate HQ.  Fast streaming, smart devices and instant communication links have opened up the workplace. Those born under the Generation Y banner have grown up with instant digital communication at their fingertips and they don’t see why they should be tied down to a physical space or to a set working time.

Let’s face it; you may want the ‘control’ which comes from seeing rows of neatly filled cubicles in the workplace but those occupying the spaces are far less likely to be connected to the business, to the customers and to their fellow employees than if they were free to roam and to create.  You may get a feeling of security from organising a formal meeting and forcing attendance but you are more likely to get innovative solutions from employees who are encouraged to connect with each other whenever they feel the need.  Generation Y understands this and Generation Z expects no less.

As for the technology, well we are just skirting the boundaries of the possible.  A recent CBRE paper suggests that by 2025, 50% of occupations today will no longer exist.  Artificial intelligence will have taken over much of the routine, leaving workers to create and interact in a way which we can as yet only dream of.  Generationally, those from the latter phases of generation Y and those born under generation Z value purpose over financial success and are looking for business to co-create solutions rather than sell items.  Interestingly a recent global survey by MSL Group suggests that those born between 1985 and 1996 have given up on government, instead expecting the corporate world to solve global issues.  The survey revealed that 78% will recommend a company to their peers based on the company’s involvement with society and 69% want businesses to help them to get involved more in societal issues.

But with all this focus on the latest generations, it can be easy to forget those who have gone before.  With an ever-increasing retirement age, organisations could well be employing 17 and 70 year olds; creating a workforce with attitudes and expectations crossing multiple generational boundaries.  The danger is that organisations, fearful of the need for equality, may try to treat everyone alike and in the process may get the best from no-one.  But true equality doesn’t mean treating everyone the same, it means acting to help everyone perform to the best of their abilities.  Embracing the diversity to be found within a cross-generational workforce and aligning that workforce with the business strategy can create an engaged team who will work together for the benefit of the business, the investors and the customers.

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