The days of treating all employees as a ‘lump’ of labour, with the same package or deal across the board, are long gone. How to segment the workforce is therefore a pressing issue, and triaging by generation is an increasingly popular approach, of which the report Talking about my generation: exploring the benefits engagement challenge [sponsored by Barclays and carried out by Dr Paul Redmond of the University of Liverpool] is a prime example.
Such data-driven work is crucial because it avoids falling into the all-too-easy stereotypes, which always seem prevalent in discussions about generations at work.
Lazy assumptions that young Generation Y people are flighty, for example, are starkly contradicted by Pew Research Center research, published in February 2010, which found Millennials were more interested in a stable job than their older counterparts. Forthcoming research from The Work Foundation confirms that UK young people value salary most of all, but all prize meaningful work well above other kinds of ancillary benefits, such as flexibility and additional benefits.
Ideas that older Baby Boomers are ‘winding down’ or ‘hanging on’ is belied by claims such as those of McDonald’s Restaurants, which reported, in February 2013, 20% higher performance in outlets that employ workers over the age of 60.
Influential research published by Professor Arpana Joshi in February 2010, Bridging domains in workplace demography research: A review and reconceptualization, suggested that cohort (people who have been in the organisation or industry for a similar period) and incumbency (how long they have been in a role) are, in fact, just as important in determining work needs as the year they were born.
We need to be aiming to consider employees and their needs from work as individuals, instead of defined by age group or other segmentation. I would argue that the real value of looking at staff through the generations lens comes from equipping line managers to adjust to different needs where possible.
Managing the employee deal should be a nuanced dialogue between organisation (or line manager) and employee, flexed in both how they work and what they get. Rather than age, an individual employment deal, regularly reviewed and renewed, should be the basis of determining the mix of benefits that ensure maximum engagement.
Benjamin Reid is a senior researcher at The Work Foundation