Employers welcome multi-generational workforce but worry about increased risk of conflict

Employers welcome multi-generational workforce but worry about increased risk of conflictImproved living standards, deflating pension pots and legal protection against age discrimination have all helped to nudge up the retirement age. The result is that for the first time since the Industrial Revolution five generations of employees are now working side by side. According to a new survey, two thirds of organisations (66 per cent) say that an age diverse workforce helped the company to have a more comprehensive skillset and knowledge base and more than seven in ten (71 per cent) felt that a multi-generational workforce brought contrasting views to their organisation. However, in the YouGov survey of middle market businesses commissioned by RSM, four in ten companies (41 per cent) said that a multi-generational workforce also increased the risk of conflict in the workplace. Interestingly, the survey also found that managers tend to find managing their own generations easier than managing others. This was true for baby boomers, millennials and generation-X respondents.

David Gibbens, an associate director at RSM HR said: ‘Having five generations under one roof doesn’t have to create friction or management headaches. As our survey found, many organisations value the diversity of opinions, experience and knowledge that a multi-generational workforce can bring. But taking advantage of those benefits will depend on the ability of organisations to create a culture where everyone feels heard, valued and understood.’

RSM’s newly unveiled report entitled ‘New forces at work – how to manage emerging people risks’ (registration required) advises employers to consider new approaches to people management and incentivisation. Practical steps include:

Work out your age profile – carry out a workforce audit to get a clear picture of the age profile of employees to ensure that those at the top can understand why the company’s existing approach to people management may need to change.

Create an inclusive culture – Those at the top of the organisation need to lead by example to create an inclusive and dynamic culture.

Go beyond stereotypes – Don’t rely on stereotypes about baby boomers and millennials to inform your strategy. The only way you’ll find out what your workforce wants is to ask them. Organisations need to run regular employee engagement surveys to understand what people think about your organisation and what will motivate them to do a good job.

Find similarities, celebrate differences – Stagnant wage growth and rising living costs have toppled the long-held belief that each generation should have a better life than the one that came before. As a result, cross generational tensions have begun to rise. Consider ways to strengthen inter-generational relationships, for example, by setting up reverse mentoring to allow younger generations to share their ideas and perspectives with older employees.

Watch out for age discrimination – With an ageing workforce, the potential for age discrimination claims can increase. To protect your organisation, you must make sure your policies, procedures and practices don’t help one generation while alienating others. Tackle unconscious biases and introduce training to encourage people to challenge their preconceptions and build awareness about risk areas.