RSS Feed


More Articles: Latest Popular Archives

Generational friction in the workplace

Contributor: |

Generational tensions may surface in the workplace as employees postpone retirement.

Many of the UK’s youngest workers believe that older colleagues are in danger of stifling their career prospects by retiring later according to a survey by KPMG, and that the prolonged presence of Baby Boomers and Generation X in the workforce could damage productivity. As the number of over 65s in the labour force tops one million*, a UK-wide survey of 1,500 people reveals that these tensions may rise, with the need for employees to stay in the labour force for longer growing due to social and financial pressures.

Carried out for KPMG by OnePoll, the survey suggests that many believe the interests of younger employees are could increasingly become pitted against those of their older colleagues, with nearly half (46 percent) agreeing that older members of staff need to retire so that younger workers have a genuine chance of career progression. Questioning their contribution to the workforce, nearly half of those surveyed agreed that a much older workforce would drain productivity. Worryingly, only 20 percent of respondents believe that employees will want to retain older workers to learn from their experience – the suggestion being that many of those employed recently are unconvinced about the benefits that older workers can bring.

Yet, while younger employees feel they may bear the brunt of their older colleagues’ extended stay in the workplace, there is also a growing acceptance that older workers will have to continue working for longer. The vast majority of respondents believe that insufficient pensions will become more commonplace due to longer life expectancy, with 81 percent saying that as a result of living longer, more people will end their lives in poverty. As rising long term care costs drain retirement funds, two thirds also believe that people will be forced to work until they die.

“As people remain in the workplace for longer, older workers will inevitably constitute a larger proportion of the workforce. Although this may breed the pernicious perception that the younger generation will lose out, this does not have to be the case. Far from it – an older workforce brings a wealth of experience and Baby Boomers can potentially adopt the invaluable role of coach or mentor to those entering the workplace. The companies who succeed will be those who take advantage of what older workers can bring to the table, in a way that is both innovative and inclusive. They will be the ones who can find a way for the Baby Boomers in their workforce to be enablers for the young rather than blockers,” says Robert Bolton, partner and co-lead of KPMG’s HR global centre of excellence.

Younger generation unafraid to challenge their employers. The survey goes on to suggest that a generational divide is also emerging in terms of attitudes towards work.; 58 percent of those from Generation Y, for example, are more likely to be content earning ‘enough’, rather than constantly striving for more – a figure that drops to 48 percent amongst Baby Boomers. Ethical credentials of a company also seems to matter more to younger generations than their older counterparts, with 55 percent of Generation Y saying that the CSR record of a company would influence their choice of employer, compared to 45 percent of Generation X.

Driven and self-confident, younger generations are also less likely to be attached to a single employer and their objectives. One in four (24 percent) Generation Y respondents believe that “individuals will increasingly challenge and question their organisation’s purpose”, compared to a mere one in ten (12 percent) of Baby Boomers. Moreover, nearly 40 percent of Generation S believes that individuals will increasingly work for more than one organisation at the same time, compared to just 25 percent of Baby Boomers. Yet it is not all bad news for employers. The survey suggests that some aspects of what makes a company a great place to work never change – flexibility in the workplace is important for all generations, with two thirds saying the option to work beyond the narrow nine-to-five boundaries drives their choice of employer.

Bolton concludes: “New entrants to the jobs market are unafraid to challenge the status quo, with many refusing to accept that things should be ‘done this way’ just because the current method has always been the one to use. Some employers may be concerned about the changing attitude, but the truth is that good leadership is about challenging, about innovating and about striving to boost performance. Employers should welcome these traits as, properly guided, they suggest that in the long-term today’s challengers will be tomorrow’s leaders.”

Receive more HR related news and content with our monthly Enewsletter (Ebrief)