From X to Z – how to make the multi-generational workforce thrive

Posted on: September 5, 2017 by Marianne Hewlett

Generation Z is starting to enter the workplace – “the first tribe of true digital natives” that are more technologically fluent than their senior colleagues. At the other end of the spectrum, our workforce is ageing, with millions of people over the age of 65 – Baby Boomers – having to continue with full-time employment in a bid to support themselves in later life. Couple this with the fact that employers also have to contend with the contrasting requirements of millennials and Generation Xers – often referred to as the “lost generation” – and a picture starts to emerge of an increasingly complex working environment.

Engaging workers of the future and retaining top talent

If we look at working practices today, there are several contradictions at play. New entrants to the workplace are motivated by rapid promotion, yet strict, hierarchical structures are being dropped in favour of a flatter management style. Generation Z and Millennials arrive in the workplace with a more developed technical skillset than their managers, and will readily share their knowledge with their older colleagues through reverse mentoring. For Baby Boomers, however, they may find this uncomfortable and perceive it as a lack of respect. Employers will need to find ways to navigate this culture clash by lessening the emphasis on outdated management models and ensuring that there are ongoing feedback mechanisms in place to keep an open dialogue.

New players at work also tend to be more independent and frequently question authority, yet they crave regular feedback and mentoring. Less driven by pay, they seek a better work/life balance and see long hours as a barrier to spending time with friends and family.

If we look at those entering their twilight years in the workplace, employers have different issues to address. These senior workers are incredibly knowledgeable and experienced, but can be less open to change and learning new skills. Particularly for knowledge workers it is incredibly important to continuously update their skills and retrain to contribute and remain in meaningful work. An aging workforce that doesn’t have the right skills to address customer needs, can become very costly for any business. Employers therefore need to find ways to create space for young talent to enter the workplace while also retaining their more senior employees for longer in meaningful work, to ensure a sustainable and profitable business.

Maximizing the potential of the workforce

The changing business environment and the growing presence of new generations in the workplace offers challenges for management. But to compete in the global, 24/7 business culture of today, there are certain avenues to explore:

  • Revise feedback mechanisms

Look at introducing more informal, frequent meetings that encourage real-time, substantive recommendations in favor of annual reviews that are so often skewed towards recent work and goals that aren’t communicated effectively.

  • Create opportunities for constant skill-building and continuous learning

Young workers love a challenge. Constant learning was a feature of the tech they grew up with and they see no reason to stop learning just because they land a job. At the other end of the scale, employers must look at reskilling their older employers, retraining them in new areas and offering them new opportunities to consider.

  • Think about the physical working space

Alter the organization’s space to encourage increased communication and collaboration. When senior management is separated by walls, it’s easy for them to be out of touch – by moving any two employees just 60m away from each other, the odds that they will have daily contact drops to nearly zero.

  • Introduce more flexible working

Managers of the future should recognize that it’s more cost effective and efficient to allow employees to work where and when they like. This new flexibility has a number of advantages for workers and employers alike; such as happier, rested and more motivated staff, reduced office overheads and increased productivity. Recruiting and retaining talent also becomes much easier, as individuals are attracted to roles that allow more flexible working arrangements.

  • Focus on the development of soft skills

Future success will mean more focus on ‘working learners,’ employees who have the desire and ability to adapt quickly and who have mastered the ‘soft skills’ such as emotional intelligence, flexibility, creativity and persuasion. There should be less emphasis on hard, technical skills when hiring.

  • Encourage exercise to positively impact physical wellbeing

Employees of all ages should be encouraged to look after their physical wellbeing. Whether that’s by bringing in early morning yoga sessions, introducing free fruit in the office or setting up a lunchtime running club, it’s important that employees have a healthy body and mind to cope with the constant demands of the workplace.

A new generation of workers is rising up the ranks and redefining the future of work as we know it. Businesses that provide supportive frameworks to cater for the needs of a multi-generational workforce will thrive, attracting, retaining and developing talent of all ages.

For more information on how technology is shaping the workplace of tomorrow, read our Future of Work report -

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About Marianne Hewlett
Senior Vice President and member of the Scientific Community
Marianne Hewlett is a Senior Vice President at Atos and a seasoned marketeer and communications expert. Passionate about connecting people, technology and business, she is a member of the Atos Scientific Community where she explores the Future of Work and the impact of technology on individuals, organizations and society. She is a strong ambassador for diversity and inclusivity – and particularly encourages female talent to pursue a career in IT – as she believes a diverse and happy workforce is a key driver for business success. As an ambassador for the company’s global transformation program Wellbeing@work, she explores new technologies and ways of working that address the needs of current and future generations of employees. A storyteller at heart, she writes about the human side of business and technology and posts include insights into the future of work, the science of happiness, and how wellbeing and diversity can drive success.

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