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Generational differences in the workplace: What the boardroom needs to know

Nicola McQueen, managing director of Capita Resourcing


By 2020, it is thought that the majority of the UK’s workforce will be made up of four generations, with many older workers delaying retirement and more Generation Z-ers entering the workplace. While the multi-generational workplace can bring a multitude of benefits in terms of skills and experience, many senior executives are worried that generational tension will increase.

This is largely due to the fact that there is a substantial difference in values, expectations, methods of communication and work habits across generations, and organisations are worried about how they can cater to this. But, integrating younger employees - while still respecting older workers – is key. Below, I provide advice for Boards on the three key areas that can effect levels of generational tension, including; cultural change, communication style and stereotyping.


Cultural change


Older workers have gotten used to their productivity being measured by hours at a desk rather than results achieved. This stance is changing, however, especially as millennials begin to assume a greater responsibility in the workplace and an onus is placed on flexibility in order to yield a better work-life balance.


While this transition can be difficult for the older generation, our new research shows that the needs and attitudes of the older workforce are more in line with those of the younger generations than we may have originally thought, with the younger generation actually preferring a traditional hierarchical structure.


In order to bolster output across all age groups and improve staff morale, it is important to accommodate as many of your employees within the business as possible. This can be successfully done through a change that positively impacts the entire company.




For millennials, growing up with constantly evolving technology means that sending texts, instant messages and tweets has become second nature. Alternatively, older generations revert to using emails, phone calls and face to face discussions/meetings.

Training is integral for older workers, to help them to understand and use new technologies. In addition, it can be said that although younger workers have been using email all their lives, they are not experienced in using it in a working environment. This means that upskilling them is vital in teaching them how to use email formally.


Younger workers also expect their working environment to allow and encourage the use of social and collaboration tools. Even though incorporating new technology into the workplace is an important procedure, it doesn’t end there. The tools themselves are a small part of helping people collaborate; you need to apply them correctly per the understanding and habits of the people involved.


Generation Y and Z workers also need to understand the benefits and the relationship of face-to-face forms of communication. It is essential that all generations have a rounded set of communication skills and can communicate effectively.




A successful way to stamp out generational stereotypes in the workplace is to create a collaborative environment of respect and mutual learning. Assigning younger workers with older colleagues, in a one to one mentor system is a good way of enforcing this idea. Our recent research shows that Generation Z are keen to learn from their older colleagues and vice versa. The creation of a collaborative approach allows HR leaders to foster a team ethos rather than a detached attitude between generations.


This approach is already generating positive change at Capita with our directors working alongside our graduates to understand and integrate social media into their working day. The senior directors provide advice and build relationships with young graduates; a demographic that they might not have previously had contact with. In return, the graduates help them build online profiles and start communicating in a different way to the staff. This helps promote a team ethos across our business.


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