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Business facing unprecedented challenges over four-generation workforces

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The clash of different work styles and attitudes between younger and older employees is one of the most significant productivity challenges facing present employers, results of “Capture It”, a research project into the multi-generational workplace carried out by the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art in collaboration with Steelcase. 

Professor Jeremy Myerson, director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art, said: “Twenty years ago human resource managers may have paid lip service to issues surrounding increasing age diversity in the work place. Now, senior executives realise that poor management of generations at work has a profound impact on their bottom line.”

The latest projections from the Office of National Statistics indicate that nearly a third of working people in the UK will be over 50 by 2020. Across Europe increased life expectancy and decreasing birth rates are creating an ahging workforce. And yet the youngest generation already make up 11% of European office workers.

Professor Myerson said: “The needs and workstyles of people at each end of the age scale are polarised. This creates very serious organisational issues for business managers relating to communication, sharing knowledge and retaining staff.”

There are now four generations working together:- Traditionalists (born before 1945), Booomers (born 1946-64), Generation X (1965-77) and Millenials (1978 -1999).

Steelcase, research consultant, Mandy Sutherland, said: “Age related issues are unquestionably a major issue for employers and the way to tackle this is to provide the tools and environment.

“Most organisations today have large numbers of boomers and smaller numbers of the youngest and oldest generations. But the mix is shifting and the youngest – the Millenials – are moving to centre stage.”

According to the latest workplace survey by Steelcase, the youngest generation of office workers are now setting their own trends.

  • They are three times more likely to work out of the office or while travelling compared with older colleagues 
  • Formal meeting spaces are far less important to them
  • They are less distracted by noise in the office.

Sutherland added: “Other generations have adopted technology but the next generation were born into it and it is really beginning to show in the workplace now. They’re not fussed about meeting rooms and big conference tables and are quite happy working in a cafe or lounge area.

“They do value natural daylight more though and are more likely to ask employers about air quality and other environmental issues. The biggest thing for these young workers is quick and easy access to colleagues, they don’t like having to negotiate their way round a maze of private offices.”


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