How to manage multigenerational teams better

A panel discussion of experts and employers for National Older Workers Week this week focused on how to manage multigenerational teams better.

Multigenerational Team


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As the workforce ages, there will increasingly be four generations within the typical workforce so how can we better manage multigenerational teams to ensure everyone feels valued and included? A panel discussion at this week’s National Older Workers Week covered everything from ageism in the recruitment process to reverse mentoring.

Kim Chaplain, Associate Director for Work at the Centre for Ageing Better, said the UK is at an interesting point in that the traditional industrial model where young people come in, get trained up, work and then retire to be replaced by younger people no longer applies. The labour market has changed demographically. There are fewer young people coming in. It has shrunk because younger people are staying in education for longer and older people are leaving. Chaplain said that everyone involved in the labour market needs to think differently and be more inclusive. That includes thinking about the language they use. She went down to three days a week and someone commented that she had ‘semi-retired’.  She is 62 and has no plans to retire. She simply wanted to reduce her hours. 

Chaplain said there is a tendency to compartmentalise older workers and treat them all as having similar needs and experiences. Many are very secure in what they do. The problem is when they want to move around. It is more risky for them to do so. She added that older workers need their confidence building and a greater sense of entitlement. This can be done through promoting positive case studies that demonstrate the measurable benefits of a more inclusive workforce, longer working lives and more flexible working, she stated. Employers need to address myths about older people and to rethink things like training, which tends to be designed around younger people, said Chaplain. That means thinking about the content of training courses and how they are delivered.

An opportunity rather than a problem

Ninoska Leppard, Director of Personnel & Development at restaurant group Corbin & King, sponsor of the event, said the hospitality industry is struggling to recruit post-pandemic due to Brexit and Covid. Corbin & King has a very diverse workforce, celebrates people’s differences and is very open. “There is no stereotypical hospitality worker,” said Leppard. Corbin & King has been running an in-house recruitment initiative for over 50s for around five years and feels very strongly that older workers enrich the whole team. Managers are encouraged to embrace the benefits they bring in terms of people skills, consistency, stability, commitment, reliability and experience and young workers value being able to learn from them. The challenge is more in convincing older workers to apply and to help them overcome stereotypes about the industry that they may have.

David Blackburn, Chief People Officer at the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, talked about the need for an inclusive culture and for employers to be wary if they have only the same type of people in an organisation. He worries that having a badge for older workers could compartmentalise them and make people focus on difference rather than diversity which helps businesses create better solutions to problems.

What makes multigenerational teams successful is the same thing that makes managing any team successful, he said: good leadership, engaging with team members, regular one to ones, meaningful coaching, listening to team members, getting feedback and acting on it to build a culture of high trust.  Treating everyone as an individual and understanding their concerns is key.

To attract older workers FSCS has found that it is vital to be explicit that you are an age friendly organisation. Having a flexible first culture which allows flexible working from day one is also crucial as is having targets for the recruitment of older workers. Multigenerational teams will be the norm due to demographic changes and there are mutual benefits for older and younger workers of working together more closely. Moreover, multigenerational teams will happen whether we like it or not, said Blackburn. “Proactive, successful organisations need to see it as an opportunity to embrace rather than a problem that needs to be solved,” he stated.

Reverse mentoring

Dawn Moore, Group Director of People for construction firm J Murphy & Sons Ltd, said it is important not to attach labels to the various generations and to consciously include everyone so they can feel themselves at work. Employers need to have a strong core offering with the flexibility to adapt to people’s different life and career stages, said Moore.  There should be no one size fits all approach. “Using the opportunities presented by multigenerational teams to really bring the different generations together for their mutual benefit is something that is really powerful,” said Moore. “Strength comes from maximising the perspectives of different generations.”

She said the perception is that construction is for older people and spoke of how J Murphy & Sons had buddied up older workers with younger workers who had entered through the Kickstart scheme. Many older workers said they had been inspired by the younger workers and energised by the ability to pass on their knowledge. The business was also learning from new recruits with “a fresh pair of eyes” about what it needs to improve on.

A general discussion followed on the need for employers to reach out to older workers and to be more aware of the need to do this, through case studies, storytelling and attention to language. Blackburn spoke of how age diversity had not been promoted in the same way as other forms of diversity. Chaplain called on tech companies in particular to demonstrably break the mould so that they encourage a more diverse workforce. She also called on employers to put forward case studies that reflect the different generations in their workforce and to show people that their teams are multigenerational, for example, by taking them to construction sites.

Corbin & King always invites potential recruits in to see their restaurants at work. The business can then see if they have the right attitude and they can see what it is like to work in that environment.

Moore added that simple changes can make a big difference. J Murphy & Sons has recently taken the requirement to put x years of experience off job descriptions as it automatically excludes many people from applying. They have already seen a change in the cvs that are coming in.  She said J Murphy & Sons has also realised the need to do more general employee development and to have conversations with people about what they want at different stages of their career.

Leppard said Corbin & King doesn’t have as many promotional opportunities as big corporates, but it makes up for this by offering staff different skills so they can move around the business and enrich their skills, for instance, wine training. That gives them a broader understanding of the business and helps the business to work better because there is less of a blame culture and less scope for misunderstandings across departments.

Corbin & King also use apprenticeships for older workers and spoke of one former telecoms engineer who had no experience in hospitality and came in on an apprenticeship at 48. Within three years he had gone from a commis chef to senior sous chef and then started training other apprentices.

Career gaps

The panelists discussed career gaps and how to get through ATS systems if you have one. Blackburn said phoning and speaking to a human was one way. It was agreed that more needs to be done to address employers’ mindsets about career gaps. FSCS’ CEO has taken a career gap. Leppard said Corbin & King said that judging people just on their cv shortchanges the individual and the employer, which is why it encourages people to drop by a restaurant beforehand.

Also under discussion was the need for employers to be more agile in their recruitment processes in the current labour market. Corbin & King says 70% of its new recruits come via referrals from other staff. The Centre for Ageing Better has published a guide for recruiting older workers which challenges employers to look at their recruitment processes and to ensure that there is not just one route in. Another issue is internalised ageism and the way some older workers undervalue themselves.

The event ended with a call to action and a discussion about how age friendly employers can encourage more employers to see the benefits of being actively age inclusive. “There is power in numbers,” said Leppard.

*National Older Workers Week is sponsored by QA.

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