Are you Gen Z, Generation Y, Generation X, or the rarer breed of baby boomer? With retirement ages drifting and young graduates streaming into the jobs market, a truly diverse workplace will include workers from all generations.
Born between 1996 and 2007, Generation Z are not a niche cohort – they make up over a fifth of the population and are the fastest growing electoral and consumer group – but as relative newcomers to the workforce, they may play a different role as part of their respective teams.
Earlier this year, HRM released its Intergenerational Insight Report, ‘Understanding the Misunderstanding’ in the workplace. The report clearly highlighted how age-related stereotypes can mean that workers are somewhat pigeonholed, and often assigned certain tasks based on their age and perceived behaviours.
As this misunderstanding can negatively impact employee satisfaction and fulfilment – as well as the bottom line – it is clear that a strategic approach to creating a working environment that meets the needs of all workers is key.
Reading between the lines, the report highlighted the inherent challenges in building a truly intergenerational workplace, and why employers must be cognisant of these in order to unlock and tap into the talent of all age groups that make up their workforce.
As illustrated by the survey findings, each generation has its own priorities when it comes to their chosen employer and their future career path. It was clear that Generation Z workers have different views on work/life balance, and their preferred communication style is markedly different to that of their colleagues.
It has been well documented that Gen Z, on the whole, tend to be well-educated. This cohort is much more likely to progress to third – and fourth – level than previous generations. They have also witnessed major disruption in the form of a global pandemic as they began their working lives and have also come of age as the realities of the climate crisis begin to bite.
Thus, it is perhaps unsurprising that the report indicated that Gen Z see themselves as quite different from other generations.
On the ground, this can cause issues. “Have perspectives held by different generations caused difficulties at work?” was a question asked by the survey. An astounding third of Generation Z participants said “Yes, regularly.” Again, the misunderstandings come to the fore.
But the diverse needs of each generation of workers are not necessarily competing; for example, the report found that Gen Z places emphasis on an employer that supports their health and wellbeing, whereas baby boomers were far more concerned about the financial viability of the organisation. But all employees benefit from an employer that is focused on the bottom line, as well as the health and wellbeing of its employees.
Similarly, Generation Z are keen to upskill and learn on the job, as their longer-term goals may include an entrepreneurial endeavour. This commitment to lifelong learning should be considered when building people strategies that include ongoing training, rewards or recognition programmes, and career path trajectory.
We also learned that, for Generation Z, a collaborative culture is that cohort’s number one factor. And anecdotally, we know that firms with rigid hierarchical structures are those most likely to struggle in their adaptation of Generation Z’s workplace needs. However, the reality is that traditional hierarchical structures and incremental career growth based on tenure are now outdated concepts.
Yet while an organisation may seek to re-orient its historical structure to accommodate Generation Z as they continue to stream into the workforce, this must be balanced against a duty of care to the other generations of workers. The pace of organisational and technological change in the last two decades certainly presents both opportunities and challenges in this regard.
As digital natives, Gen Z will invariably find digital up-skilling and role development easier – or at least more straightforward. And according to Kantar Global, the smartphone tends to be Generation Z’s preferred method of communication. As hybrid workplace models become embedded, ensuring effective communication and savvily employing technology to enable this is a given. However, the pace of change can pose some problems, and this too must be considered when creating and developing learning strategies for up-skilling and role development.
When blending the right mix of generations, employers cannot lose sight of the bigger picture, they must be aware of the differing priorities of each, but this cannot be to the detriment of any one age group. By recognising the needs and wants of each employee cohort, they can exploit the possible synergies such as a diverse workforce is capable of.
The hunger and drive displayed by Generation Z will always be a welcome addition to a team, but the talent, skills, and experience of other generational cohorts are indispensable. Can a company culture please all of the people all of the time? Of course not. But by re-orienteering critical elements of the organisation’s culture to satisfy Gen Z, they risk alienating the other generational cohorts – who still comprise the majority of the workforce. The HRM report clearly illustrated that the key to maining good intergenerational relationships was to recognise differences and to talk about them. As with most workplace challenges, clean and open communication – whether it is face to face, email, or WhatsApp – is key.