For the first time in industrial history, five generations are rubbing shoulders with each another in the workplace. They share the same work cubicles, chat together over the same water coolers, and mingle with each other in training seminars and awaydays.
But don’t let this apparent multi-generational melting pot fool you. Look beneath the surface and each generation retains its own unique generational identity, its own generationally informed characteristics.
Today’s workplace may contain more generations than ever before, but as our research [Talking about my generation: exploring the benefits engagement challenge] has found, every generation remains unique.
For years, employee benefits packages have been built around the concept of vertical progression, long-term engagement and secure career futures, preferably within the same organisation. Designed in the 1970s and 80s, these packages made a lot of sense when they first appeared. No doubt this explains why the research found that of all generations questioned, Baby Boomers were the most likely to express satisfaction with their current benefits packages.
This is categorically not the case for preceding generations, particularly Generations X and Y. For these later cohorts, the worlds of work and finance are far more complicated affairs. Gone is the job for life and long-term economic security. With lenders demanding deposits of up to £30,000 from new homeowners, for many younger employees, even the idea of being able to afford to buy their own home is becoming an ever more distant idea.
If employers are to use employee benefits as a means to engage with all generations in the workforce, a new approach is needed, one that takes account of the multi-generational characteristics of today’s workers.
The report makes a range of substantial recommendations for how employers and HR professionals might customise their benefits packages more effectively around the different generations at work. For example, benefits packages that allow for greater work-life balance and flexibility have been found to appeal to Generation X workers, while, somewhat counter-intuitively, Generation Y employees (the world’s first ‘digital natives’) prefer one-to-one consultations and face-to-face meetings, particularly when discussing benefits packages involving financial considerations.
If organisations are to start meeting the needs of today’s multi-generational workforce, it’s time they started talking about what each generation really wants.
Dr Paul Redmond is head of careers and employability at the University of Liverpool