The new intergenerational workplace: What needs to change?

November 2019

Last week’s ThinkIn, hosted by Tortoise in collaboration with Fora, covered a topic that is on all of our minds. It’s one that has been touched on and critiqued from all corners. Can an intergenerational workplace thrive? Can you appeal to Gen Z and your older employees at the same time? These are all questions that were looming over the evening, but we sure got into the granular.

Back in our day…

Now, we tend to live 10 years longer than our parents. An entire decade to fill. This alone brings with it a lot of anxiety and pressure. From a practical level, this has implications on our preparation for retirement, our family plans and fundamentally our careers. It’s easy to latch on to stereotypes and point the finger at the younger employees, but we’re all very much living it. Equally, as much as Gen Z are firmly rooted in (or just entering) the workplace, this doesn’t mean that they should become the be-all and end-all. By next year, a third of the work force will be over 50. That’s massive, and it’s a great launch point for this topic. The research that came to light on the night suggested that 50s to 60s are half as likely to be offered training opportunities as the 20-30 age bracket, proving employers still have some way to got to catch up with… well… ageing.

Being attuned to our needs

We all have needs in the workplace, but having an awareness of what those needs are and how companies can support them, is key for success. It’s something that so many organisations struggle with, brought to light by the audience and their experiences. Beth, who is on a graduate scheme at a London IT company, talked about the struggles she observes with retention at her clients’ businesses. It almost seems impossible to get young talent to stay. This opened a broader conversation around modern and current ways of working, and as a result, can we just part with the idea that everyone’s goal is to progress at the company they work for? A lot of people use roles as a stepping stone or ‘project’ to leap into something else. There’s nothing wrong with this, and there’s an inevitably to this behaviour, especially when you consider the current economic climate. Young people are looking to carve out the best career (and life) for themselves, and that sometimes means taking risks. Due to the fast-moving nature of our time, young people have a lot of anxieties around their future, which sometimes causes them to jump ship and pursue new opportunities if in doubt about their existing role (and its longevity). It’s not an attitude that older generations have grown up with, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Bin the blueprint

There’s a way to go before we successfully bridge the gap between the generations, and between education and entering work. Take the way Executives treat their teenage children versus how they treat the grads that work for them. There’s a stark difference. This dichotomy illuminates the work that needs to be done to create a thriving intergenerational workplace. We need to find a formula for lifelong learning, starting at apprentice level and spanning right through to retirement. This should play into other elements of careers, with opportunities to move sideways and upskill, all while having the support to meet individual potential. This stands for every age group. Pleasingly, there are examples of businesses becoming attuned to the requirements of an intergenerational workplace. The Economist have done away with CVs for their intern programme, and as a result hired a 48-year old mother. This woman doesn’t conform to the standard ‘intern’ image, but she was the best person they interviewed and has gone on to achieve wonderful things in her career. If the format hadn’t changed, there’s a good chance she wouldn’t have been the chosen candidate. Another example is EY dropping degrees form their grad scheme application process, instead favouring interdisciplinary skills.

We’re certainly not there yet, but with commitment and an open-mind, we can ensure intergenerational workplaces get the most from everyone. Companies’ actions need to reflect the standards that they claim to live by. This currently isn’t the case, and leads to a lack of trust and belief in employers. To do this, we need to step away from the idea that the two spectrums of generations are radically different to each other, they’re not. Times are changing and jobs no longer have the permanence that they once held. That’s fact, and although Gen Z have been born into this reality, it is still well within everyone’s rights to adopt and demonstrate this point of view.

Equally we need to tackle age discrimination at both ends, making sure that everyone is judged only on skill and commitment. A report by LinkedIn found that Gen Z are four times more likely to change jobs than Baby Boomers, who average just two jobs in 10 years. But, the desire to leave and move on is measured at a fairly similar level across the two generations. So the difference for Gen Z is the action itself, rather than the feeling.


Heads up: We’ll be releasing the full discussion as a podcast episode very soon so keep an eye on our social channels to listen. Looking for more to get stuck into? To see what other ThinkIns are on the horizon and to sign up to join an upcoming conversation, click here. Upcoming Future of Work topics include ‘Is it OK to have an office romance?’ and ‘Do you have to be a psychopath to be a CEO?’ – Come and join the discussion.