Event blog: how are businesses dealing with multi-generational teams?

Event blog: How are businesses dealing with multi-generational teams?

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Ambition recently held a Women in Partnership networking breakfast with 15 senior level women from Professional and Financial services firms on the topic of age and managing multi-generational teams. 

In the UK there are currently more people over the age of 55 than there are under the age of 16. Many businesses are missing out on valuable expertise by failing to engage and encourage experienced workers who can help to develop the younger individuals coming up through the ranks. 

With the average life expectancy increasing and birth rates remaining low, UK businesses need to start acting fast in order to address the issue of the ageing workforce. This led us to ask attendees the following question: 

What impact is the ageing workforce currently having on your business?

It quickly became apparent that most businesses are not currently tackling the issue of the ageing workforce. Little, if anything, is being done to educate and help support senior management who lead multi-generational teams. 

Those who came from Accountancy firms stated that, due to the structure of their organisations, there have always been multiple generations within their teams, with many individuals having been with the firm for many years, progressing steadily from a junior role to Partnership level.

However, they have noticed changes in the last decade. These days, employees tend to be far less loyal to their businesses than in previous years and people move around far more frequently. The notion of a “job for life”, or indeed a “Partner for life” no longer exists, with many Partners and employees choosing to leave their firms for a variety of reasons.

This movement is contributing to the changing dynamics within accountancy profession and provides new opportunities for younger workers wishing to move up the ranks. As a result, many ambitious, innovative individuals are now able to progress at a faster rate than previous generations, with the most talented among them effectively “leap frogging” over certain levels of the profession and reaching senior level positions more quickly. 

The notion of this perceived ‘lack of loyalty’ in the younger generations was then discussed. Participants recognised that Gen Y have completely different attitudes and expectations compared to older colleagues. Historically, individuals joining organisations at a junior level or as an intern had to work very hard to prove themselves. This included putting in long hours and not always doing the most interesting work, but this was seen as a rite of passage. 

This is not an attitude shared by the generations coming up through the ranks. In most situations, junior employees value their free time and as a result they are less willing to work on weekends or late into the night day after day. When they are in work they do work hard and are just as dedicated and ambitious as previous generations, but they are working differently. This observation highlighted the very different mind-sets of the various generations. 

What can be done to better manage multi-generational teams?

The discussion then moved on to the topic of benefits and how the various generations value different benefits. Some organisations have a flexible package of benefits to reflect this, however this is rare. More work needs to go into to ensuring that the benefits on offer have enough variety to suit individuals at different stages of their life. By recognising that at different times in an individual’s life they may have differing values and needs and by offering benefits to support these needs, businesses are likely to improve their retention and attraction levels. 

Reverse mentoring was discussed as a means of helping generations to work better within a team and appreciate each other’s strengths. Reverse mentoring is an initiative in which senior executives are paired with and mentored by less experienced employees on topics such as technology, social media and current trends. It also enables senior management to gain an insight into the challenges faced by more junior employees within the organisation and to gain their input and feedback. 

Often, those who are reluctant to take part in this are the ones that gain the most from it and go on to become strong advocates! 

What is your business currently doing to raise awareness of multi-generational issues?

Whilst attendees recognised that this is a big issue that needs to be addressed most felt that businesses are not currently doing enough. All agreed that those companies that offer solutions and various ways of working will be ahead of the curve and will be more likely to engage a diverse, multi-generational workforce. 

One attendee stated that their organisation had held a talk which discussed the stereotypes within different generations and what each generation valued. It was a fascinating discussion and by recognising what is important to each generation, management styles could then be changed to better suit individual needs. She pointed out that it is important that managers really understand the motives of each individual in their teams and incentivise them accordingly, but to do this effectively requires help and training which most businesses are not offering. 

Overall, the breakfast discussion prompted a great deal of thought around what companies could and should be doing to better manage a multi-generational workforce.

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