Forget Gen Y – the future workplace is multigenerational

Old dog new tricksThere is quite possibly more guff talked about the impact of Gen Y on businesses and the workplace than any other management topic. However, it’s not only wrong to characterise the people of Generation Y as some homogeneous blob with stereotyped attitudes that set them apart from the rest of humanity, but also to miss the point that the workplace is and will remain multigenerational. In fact, according to new data from the Department of Work and Pensions, there have never been more over 50s in work in the UK than there are right now.  There are 2 million more over-50s in jobs than there were 15 years ago and they will form a third of the workforce by 2020. And they will want their own say on things just as much as the much talked about millennials.

The figures from the DWP show the number of people aged 50 to 64 in employment has reached 7.7million, which is not only an increase in overall terms but also represents a jump in the proportion within the total workforce. The increase is partly down to necessity and a change in the law from 2011 which means employers can no longer oblige staff to leave employment at 65 as they once did, but also because more people actually want to carry on and many of them remain ambitious. The DWP report showed the average age at which men retire has risen from 63.1 in 1993 to 64.8 today. For women it is up from 60.9 to 62.6.

The DWP has also championed the cause of older workers for practical reasons, predicting that the UK will create 13.5 million over the next ten years but only 7 million young people will enter the workforce over that period. The upshot is that the future workplace will not be dominated by Gen Y, but shared by everybody.

This will mean finding ways of balancing the needs, attitudes and skills of different generations. But it also means challenging stereotypes and not assuming anything. For example, research published last week by the Max Planck Institute in Berlin found that older workers, far from being forgetful old farts, actually perform more consistently in memory tests than younger people even if their overall performance was lower and that there was a great deal of variability between the performance of individuals within age groups.

These sorts of findings challenge the rough stereotypes that characterise most of the Gen Y debate. They are mirrored in the work of organisations such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which found in a 2010 report written by Alison Maitland that:

  • Ambition remains. More than twice as many (11 per cent) over 50s want promotion as want to  downshift (4 per cent).
  • Enthusiasm for learning persists. 44 per cent of 56-59 year-olds and a third of 60-64 year-olds had undertaken training in the past three years. 21 per cent of the over 50s had trained to improve their job prospects.
  • Working longer is not a burden borne purely out of necessity: those who have elected to work longer are happy and enjoying what they do.
  •  There is significant demand for greater flexibility in hours and location of work. Sixty-eight per cent of the over 50s unemployed below state pension age and 85 per cent of people inactive and over state pension age said that greater availability of flexible and part-time work would help them to find jobs.