Understanding multigenerational working

Are you a Baby Boomer or part of Generation X or Y? If so how do you view your older or younger colleagues? Do they share your approach to work and do they share the same life issues?


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Multigenerational working is growing as an issue in the workplace as people’s working lives extend into their late 60s, the impact of eldercare and childcare on career progression and retention become more apparent and the “war for talent” hots up.

Russell Beck, Head of Consulting at Impellam Group Plc who led a recent webinar on multigenerational working, says research is looking at the impact of what people are exposed to in their formative years and what they saw their parents go through on their attitudes to work.

So those Baby Boomers who entered the workforce when unemployment was rising in the late seventies and early eighties might be more inclined to “bunker down”. “They tend to have a strong work ethic, be competitive, may be more likely to question if someone says they are working from home tomorrow,” says Beck.

Meanwhile, Generation Y are living at a time when it is very difficult to get on the housing ladder. They therefore have fewer anchors and they are likely to leave having children until later in life. “That massively changes their approach to work. It makes them more nimble and less likely to want to be tied to one job,” says Beck.

Flexible working

One thing the groups have in common is that they tend to want more flexibility in the way they work – Baby Boomers as they approach retirement, Generation X because they are balancing childcare and eldercare and Generation Y because that is what they expect, having grown up in the technology age.

Beck says that companies often don’t focus on the changing demographic make-up of their workforce. One area where they have a blind spot, he says, is the growing number of women graduates coming into the workforce and the impact this will have if companies don’t accommodate women, many of whom will go on to be mums.

“Many corporates are heavily male-dominated. That alienates two thirds of their talent pool. Very few businesses realise that there are so many demographic shifts going on,” he says. “They are just carrying on as normal.”

That includes in their HR processes. Beck adds that Generation Y people tend to be more entrepreneurial than corporate and are ambitious, wanting regular, effective feedback rather than what he calls the “archaic” annual appraisal process.

Multigenerational working can help business

Despite the differences in the generations’ approaches to work, Beck says businesses will profit from harnessing the talents of a multigenerational workforce.

Initiatives like mentoring and reverse mentoring between the different generational groups can help to make the most of the differences, for instance, Generation Y people can mentor Baby Boomers about technology use while Generation Y can learn about leadership from Baby Boomers.

Beck adds that work culture and management style needs to adapt to get the most out of a multigenerational workforce. “It should be more like coaching.

There should be bi-directional feedback. It shouldn’t be authoritarian. The hierarchical nature of work is breaking down and collaboration is vital,” he says. “Engagement and transparency are important. People need to be treated like grown-ups.”

He adds that one of the key barriers to a changing work culture is short term thinking. “Businesses need to be called out on this and they need to enable people to call them out on it though creating an engagement culture,” says Beck.

“Otherwise they will lose out in the long term. There is a massive demand for skilled people and employers need to realise the choice people have.”

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