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#OKBoomer: Tackling the generational divide at work

Is it possible to create a harmonious, one-size-fits-all workplace for employees spanning five generations?

Tensions between the old and the young are running at an all-time high. This is perhaps best encapsulated by the #OKBoomer trend which kicked off in the latter half of 2019. 

Members of Generation Z (typically born between 1997 and 2012) used the hashtag to hit back at a group of Baby Boomers – specifically those who claimed young people were lazy, or used derisory terms like ‘snowflake’. The young took the opportunity to remind their elders of the crises they have inherited, such as climate change and spiralling inequality.

This heated intergenerational conflict – stoked further in recent months by politicians – will undoubtedly play out for some time on social media and in wider social contexts.

However, it is essential that such tensions do not become manifest in the workplace.

Universal contentment is no mean feat, especially when up to five generations might be working together in one organisation. But it is possible to ensure that even the broadest of teams doesn’t splinter. 

Empowered with age-specific data, managers can gain a better understanding of generational nuances – what makes people of a certain age tick, and what really doesn’t – in order to keep the whole workforce engaged and united.

Chalk and cheese: Key generational differences

According to employee engagement platform Peakon, Boomers (those aged around 55 to 75) are the most engaged, optimistic and satisfied at work.

New data – based on more than 11 million survey responses – revealed that Boomers are the most aligned with their organisation’s strategy and purpose, the most likely to recommend their company to others, and the most confident about contributing ideas.

They are, therefore, more likely than any other generation to stay loyal to their company when offered another job.

Crucially, these markers of engagement increase significantly over time. In fact, Peakon’s data shows that Boomers are at their most engaged from three years after joining a company, when their experience makes them more valuable, and when younger generations may be looking to move on to pastures new.

Peakon: Key Findings from Our Employee Voice Report

The data provides a compelling argument against ageism in recruitment, and is a solid reminder of the cultural equity, confidence and creative thinking to be unlocked by making better use of the Boomer generation.

However, the findings also raise questions. Chiefly, why are organisations failing to generate the same level of satisfaction and loyalty among their younger employees?

Millennials, for example, who are currently aged between 25 and 40, are the least satisfied at work. They are significantly less likely to feel inspired by the company’s purpose, or to believe in its strategy, and they are the least likely to believe they are fairly rewarded.

While this may be reflective of Millennials’ general sense of being excluded from financial opportunity, there’s more to it than that.

Bridging the generational divide

It’s no surprise that Boomers are the most satisfied generation at work. Most companies are still run by Boomers, use communication strategies that were developed by Boomers, and offer perks that resonate with Boomers. 

Organisations that were developed with the demands of the Boomer generation in mind need to be mindful now of how employee expectations have evolved, and ask themselves: “What do our younger workers crave?”

Gen Z, for example, are uniquely vocal about sustainability and the environment. They expect responsible behaviour from their employers.

To demonstrate that your organisation shares in their concerns you can take simple steps like providing better recycling facilities, or reusable water bottles, or go further by putting together a sustainability committee.

Companies should acknowledge the evolution in communication methods too.

While all age groups agree about the importance of being able to speak up, Boomers prefer to use emails and stick to rigidly formal terms. Meanwhile, younger generations prefer emerging messaging platforms like Slack. And, according to Peakon’s data, Millennials are by far the most likely to use emoticons in communications, betraying an appetite for an emotional connection or a degree of informality. 

Managers who can adapt to this, and deliver bespoke communications across a range of channels, will not only boost overall satisfaction, but will be in a better position to foresee and stub out any potential splintering among staff.

Finding common ground between different generations can also help smooth over the divide. For example, workers from across all age groups are concerned about work-life balance, so modern companies should consider offering flexible hours or work-from-home days in order to facilitate this.

Ultimately there is no silver bullet. But, as generational divisions deepen, Peakon’s findings can help employers to better understand, and ultimately unite, their workforce.

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