How to avoid generational divides in your workplace21 Mar, 20235 mins
How to avoid generational divides in your workplaceEmployers are being squeezed, there’s no ...
How to avoid generational divides in your workplace
Employers are being squeezed, there’s no doubt about it. Not only are they battling with staff departures and the rising need for talent, but they are also facing increasing calls for improved employee offerings and greater flexibility.
Many employees have got a taste for remote working and aren’t willing to give it up, but not all organisations suit this type of working, and not all staff agree either. Research suggests that these differences in opinion are driving a wedge between generations in the workplace as employers struggle to put policies in place that work for everyone. Deloitte’s Consumer Tracker revealed that workers aged over 55 were half as likely as under-35s to want permanent flexible working in future.
Research also shows that millennials are pushing for more flexibility and remote working (55 per cent) – with other generations feeling this group are playing the ‘family or long commute card’ too much post-pandemic.
The study also found that the Gen Z generation seeks a workplace culture built on purpose (33 per cent), strong social values (27 per cent), and mental health and wellness (42 per cent), but older generations feel that this age group should primarily focus on ‘the job at hand.’
Further to this, 60 per cent of UK office workers reported a rise in ‘new challenges’ when working with teammates from different generations. And 40 per cent of respondents are ‘annoyed’ at the post-pandemic working values and global-minded outlooks of colleagues in other age ranges.
Generational divides may appear trivial, but anything that risks dislodging a sense of cohesion can easily snowball into something much more serious. If left unchecked, tensions between teams are one sure-fire way to damage your company culture, impede workflow and ultimately lead to issues around motivation and wellbeing.
There is clearly a need to address these fractions before they worsen and getting to the bottom of why they are arising may be the key.
Receptiveness to change
Generational divides are not new, but working practices are triggering issues and strong opinions to come out of the woodwork.
When home working was enforced for all, personal preferences went out the window and everyone had to come to terms with a new working regime – it worked as a great leveller for a small window of time. However, it is the return to the office which is proving more challenging and divisive.
Employees have had the time to consider what they prefer and there has been communal recognition amongst many that people should be making less compromises when it comes to having a work life balance. For some, this has made seeking out flexible working a no-brainer, but for those who did not enjoy the changes that the pandemic brought, they are just looking to return to normal.
Whilst this comes down to personal preference, some maintain that younger workers are generally more receptive to change than older generations, arguably because they have been raised to see changes such as job hopping, as something positive.
These are of course sweeping generalisations, but it is easy to see how upbringing and differing experiences can easily result in judgements on both sides.
Learning by doing
The value of an office environment for learning, particularly for new employees, goes far beyond in-person training. Being around your colleagues will give you a real sense of the dynamic of a workplace, how co-workers interact and where you fit within the team.
Most new starters will benefit from ‘learning by osmosis’, whereby they pick things up just by listening to office conversations and taking part in discussions and will be able to build a much complete view of an organisation and how it functions, just by watching how teams and departments intersect.
The problem is, the more that we focus on generational differences, the more that we tend to exacerbate them. By highlighting how opinions differ we are reinforcing certain incorrect stereotypes such as that all older workers resist innovation and that all younger workers are entitled. The reality is that every generation has a mix of attitudes and values, and making presumptions on what these are, based on age, is not helpful or conducive to solutions.
The biggest mistake that employers can make is to make assumptions on what people want or how they feel. Research might point to deeply entrenched divides, but this doesn’t necessarily apply to your workplace. Talking to your team is the only true way to find out about any underlying tensions and to inform decisions around your employee offering.
No matter what generation you are, there may be circumstances in your life that make home working easier or harder, not to mention the differing personality traits that thrive or struggle outside of an office environment.
But if you are treating your employees as individuals with differing needs and offering support and benefits that are tailored to their needs, then generational differences should not even come into play.
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