23 January 2018 | By Erika Bannerman Community

Too much talking about generation

Capita's Erika Bannerman explains why you need a generation-neutral strategy to bridge the skills gap

The arrival of “Generation Z” into the workplace has been accompanied by a lot of debate. Some commentary has focused on how this new breed of ambitious, digital natives will transform the way that organisations operate. Elsewhere, they have been portrayed as being totally unprepared for the world of work, hard to engage, and full of unrealistic expectations. Either way, the next generation of workers has been positioned as completely different to any that has gone before.

At the same time, we’ve also seen the spotlight shone onto older workers, over the age of 55, who are set to continue working for longer than we or they may have expected. Perhaps even more so than with younger workers, stereotypes have come to the fore, with older workers often portrayed as being out of touch, disengaged, unmotivated and of limited value in the digital age.

Such has been the hype surrounding generational challenges within the workforce, most organisations have adopted a new approach to hiring and talent management, building separate strategies for different age groups, particularly for Gen Zs. Indeed, we recently found that 83 per cent of employers see integrating Gen Z into the workforce as their biggest business challenge currently, ahead of innovation and hitting financial targets.

More similarities than differences

Over the past 18 months, we’ve spent a lot of time examining generational differences within the workforce, exploring attitudes and aspirations. And in our new white paper, The Gen Neutral Workforce, we present some key considerations for employers looking at generational factors within their workforce. It shows that the ‘generation debate’ is most certainly not as black and white as is often portrayed within the business world.

One of the most interesting insights we uncovered throws into question the whole notion of a generation-based approach to talent: rather than approaching the world of work from polar extremes, there are in fact a lot more similarities between older and younger workers than is widely accepted.

Both are looking for a challenging and stimulating environment, the opportunity to progress and recognition of good work. Both value a decent salary, generous holiday allowance and a level of flexibility, but appreciate the need for a balanced, sensible approach to flexibility and the importance of hard work.

Generation-based recruitment also poses potential risks. By thinking solely about different generations within the workforce, and targeting them with separate and conflicting messages, businesses will confuse, alienate and polarise their employees. We found that older workers, in particular, are left feeling isolated by the heavy focus employers are placing on integrating younger workers into their organisations.

Focus on the individual, not the age

A single generation, whether old or young, cannot singlehandedly address the critical and complex skills challenges facing organisations today. Gen Z alone is not the silver bullet to bridging the skills gap, and employers should be focusing on building and engaging multi-generational workforces.

We’re now working with a number of clients who are adopting a more targeted, persona-based approach to talent acquisition and management. New technology allows employers to focus on the needs, drivers and ambitions of the individual, no matter what their age. And we’re finding that this can be a far more engaging and powerful model than the generational approach.

Of course, there are some differences in character, skills and outlook between different generations, and it’s important to acknowledge this. But it’s time to look beyond the hype surrounding Gen Zs. Businesses should be constructing a well-rounded, compelling generation-neutral workforce strategy that appeals to any worker, irrespective of age, seniority and demographics.

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