Over the last decade – and for the first time ever – a growing number of companies have found they are employing people from five different generations. With a rising retirement age (the UK’s state pension will rise to 66 this October), businesses are having to meet very different needs across their multi-generational workforce.

This is no doubt a good thing. Companies which employ people from multiple generations can draw on a wider talent pool and benefit from different perspectives and approaches. At the same, there are certain challenges that arise when people from different generations work together. It is therefore wise to have a plan in place to respond to their different needs.

5 generations in the multi-generational workforce

Evermore companies are characterised by their multi-generational nature. The five generations found in many companies today are:

  • Generation Z (born 1997–2012)
  • Millennials (born 1981–1996)
  • Generation Xers (born 1965–1980)
  • Baby boomers (born 1946–1964)
  • Traditionalists (born 1928-1945)

Differences between generations

The differences between generations can be overstated – as the Harvard Business Review points out, dwelling on stereotypes is often unhelpful. While it’s true that Generation Z are happier with smartphones than Baby Boomers for instance, there are also many similarities across generations too. For instance, there will be introverts and extroverts in all age ranges.

That said, there are certain differences between generations that it is important to be conscious of:

  • Different communication styles: Younger generations may prefer digital and ‘chat’ style comms, older generations may prefer face to face
  • Different attitudes to workplace behaviour: From the kinds of conversations that people have at work to their attitude towards 9-5 working hours, different generations have different values and behavioural norms.
  • Different management needs: While there is a risk of stereotyping, there is some truth in the notion that each generation prefers being managed in different ways. For instance, Generation Z is said to need frequent positive affirmation, while Generation X prefers more task-oriented management.

Being conscious of these differences can influence how you treat employees and help adjust for their specific needs.

Creating a strategy to manage the multi-generational workforce

If your organisation employs people from four or five generations, it is valuable to develop a plan for how you will manage these differences. Here are five tips on how to start:

  1. Get to know the generations at your company

Any good strategy will be based on solid research. Send out a company-wide survey, conduct focus groups and run interviews with staff of different age groups. Find out how they like to be communicated with, what their concerns are, what technology they like to use and how they want to interact with colleagues.

  1. Support different ways of working

Offer people different ways to do the same thing. For example, when it comes to editing documents, try to make it possible for different generations to work in the way that suits them best. Baby Boomers might be used to a platform like SharePoint where they check documents out and edit them on their desktop PC. Millennials might prefer to edit that same document on the cloud. Using platforms like Microsoft 365 which offer this flexibility will mean different working styles are supported.

  1. Offer appropriate technology training

Tailor training to people’s needs and experience. For instance, older workers may not be so comfortable picking up so-called ‘intuitive’ technology platforms (which might only feel intuitive if you spent your childhood using social media). Age-appropriate training can be very effective in this context.

  1. Encourage cross-generational mentoring

Mentoring is often seen as guidance from older people to younger people. This is certainly valuable, but mentoring can go the other way too. A Gen Z employee could, for instance, provide guidance to a Traditionalist on how to use social media.

  1. Support all kinds of communication

Because different generations have grown up using different communication tools, it is common for misunderstandings to occur. Once again, this is why communication tools need to be ready for different generations. Microsoft Teams, for example, supports face to face chats (via video) that older generations prefer, as well as instant messaging which is more comfortable for younger workers.

Multi-generation workforce assessment

With an ageing population and rising retirement age, more and more companies will need to adapt to the multi-generational workforce. At FITTS, we are helping companies respond to this change through our business transformation workshops which look at how you can adjust your processes, communication styles and technologies to the needs of different age groups.

Contact FITTS today for your free assessment or for general advice on how to ensure your business technology meets the needs of your people.