Australia’s ageing population is affecting businesses and society in unprecedented ways. The increase of the retirement age to 67 years by 2023 means that a workplace can now have up to five generations working in the same office.
Economically, it is imperative for Australian businesses to keep people working for longer to combat the societal impact. An increasing average age will put pressure on businesses to support mature workers and provide strategies for prolonged engagement and upskilling.
With an age gap of nearly 50 years between the oldest Baby Boomers and youngest in Gen Z, this can lead to a stark difference in needs and attitudes amongst the workforce. Management must create strategies to balance generational conflict, inequality and discrimination to cater to all ages.
How the workplace is changing
Professionals have always worked with a varying range of age groups, but the workplace has changed significantly over the past 50 years. Businesses are much more likely to adopt a flatter working structure and shorter chain of command. The increased focus on team work and coordination has led to a greater fluidity of communication between colleagues and those with authority. Consequently, professionals are now working more collaboratively with people of all ages, rather than just those of similar responsibility.
We have also seen a rise in the number of university graduates and those with higher level qualifications graduating later than previous generations. When these graduates enter the workforce, Generations Y and Z are generally less afraid to argue their point, make demands and voice their opinions. Whilst they often bring innovative corporate solutions, fresh perspectives and digital expertise, it can be a source of conflict among more senior professionals with a different perspective on workplace behaviour.
As the retirement age increases, businesses have a role in retaining senior staff, while finding ways to keep them engaged for longer to ensure a productive balance between all staff members. Management needs to understand how intergenerational collaboration can shape an organisation.
Conflict in a multigenerational workplace
Intergenerational differences will become more prominent as the gap between the youngest and oldest staff members grow. Research shows that younger workers find it more difficult to cope with age diversity than their older counterparts.
Negative stereotyping can influence how individuals view their colleagues and collaborate with others. Older workers may perceive younger generations as being uncommittable, distracted or entitled, whilst older workers may be perceived as old-fashioned, slow or technically illiterate.
Views on communication style and methods also differ between generations. Senior professionals prefer more formal communication methods and often in-person conversation, whereby Gen Y and Z prefer informal and online communication.
Studies show that millennials are more likely to choose workplace flexibility, work/life balance and global exchange opportunities over financial rewards. They also have a greater desire to be supported and appreciated at work, and to be a part of a cohesive team. Non-Millennial generations place a greater importance on pay and development opportunities.
Despite the concentration on the two ends of the generational divide, Gen X are likely to play the middle roles of managing both those younger and older than themselves. As they develop experience, businesses need ways to equip this generation with the strategies to balance differences with their own demands.
Managing generational diversity
Planning for an ageing workforce will be essential as the retirement age increases, particularly as a one-size-fits all approach is no longer effective. Businesses need to equip managers for the challenges and opportunities of managing a multigenerational workforce.
As a starting point, organisations should gather information on the generational composition and differences of their workforce. Using an online survey can be a quick way to collect data from across the organisation. Training HR leaders to understand this can inform how training programs, structure and culture should be adjusted.
Flexibility is key to support the unique demands of each employee and generation. Developing strategies that focus on the individual, offering tailored training programs and workplace benefits can allow for varying needs to be met. Upskilling will become an important component in ensuring senior workers have the skills and confidence to grow with a changing workplace. In turn, this will contribute to establishing an environment that supports retention of mature workers.
To attract and retain workers over 60, flexible work hours and the option to scale back roles to part time positions can be effective. Phased retirement can also help to gradually reduce the work load over an agreed period. Pre-retirement career planning with those entering their 50s is also beneficial by individuals to map out the next decade of their working life.
When applied effectively, these strategies can help build a supportive environment, and one that empowers individual skills and differences.
The keys to a stronger workplace
Whilst it is an economic imperative for businesses to support a multigenerational workplace, it can also provide the opportunity for a greater competitive advantage. Modern organisations should focus on building a productive balance of people from all age groups. The ability to harness the unique experiences, values, personalities and approaches to teamwork can lead to a stronger culture and more engaged employees.
About the author
Rafael Moyano, CEO, Australia at The Adecco Group
 Adecco Whitepaper, ‘How to manage a multigenerational workforce’, https://www.adecco.com.au/news/how-to-manage-a-multigenerational-workforce/15852/
 PwC’s Next Gen: A global generational study, https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/hr-management-services/pdf/pwc-nextgen-study-2013.pdf