With people working longer than ever due to the rising pension age, squeezed incomes, and the desire to stay social and active, the modern workforce now comprises five generations:

  • Traditionalists (born 1925-1945)
  • Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
  • Generation-X (born 1965-1980)
  • Millennials (born 1981-1996)
  • Generation-Z (born 1997-2012)

Having an age-diverse workforce brings different perspectives, wide-ranging skills and creates learning opportunities. However, it also presents challenges for business leaders as they try to attract, retain, motivate, and develop employees with vastly different backgrounds and lived experiences.

Understanding the five generations

With a multi-generational workforce, there can be vast differences in values, communication styles, and technological fluency that can make it challenging for employers to cultivate a culture that addresses everyone’s workplace priorities. As humans, we tend to stereotype different groups of individuals, which can result in ageism unless employers take steps to encourage greater understanding and empathy.

The social, economic, political, and technological landscape of the UK has changed dramatically and constantly over the past 60-70 years. With so much change, and so many factors at play, significant differences in workplace expectations and behaviours are to be expected – but the patchwork of experiences can also create a stronger, more creative, more productive workforce, drawing from decades of lived experience .

Tackling ageism in the workplace 

Whether your employees and candidates are 18 or 80, it’s important to ensure everyone has the best possible experience – but it seems that this is not always the case. In Michael Page’s latest Talent Trends report, which surveyed 50,000 respondents  in 178 markets, a shocking 47% reported experiencing age discrimination at work.

The report reveals that ageism affects workers across all age groups. A staggering 59% of those aged 50+ cited instances of age discrimination , but it was still an issue for Gen X (44-59 years old), Millennials (28-43 years old) and Gen Z (12-27 years old) , with 33%, 39% and 35% respectively reporting experiences of ageism.

Generational differences in the workplace can influence attitudes, behaviours, and communications styles. They can become apparent when employees feel underappreciated or disrespected by their colleagues and can have consequences such as lower morale, decreased productivity, and higher turnover rates.

The prevalence of ageism in the workplace should be a cause for concern for organisations, requiring urgent action, but only half (53%) of workers expressed satisfaction with how the issue is currently being handled.

More than two in five (44%) employees agree that preventing age discrimination is the most important diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative, and employers need to take any issues, miscommunications or concerns seriously, and take proactive steps to foster greater inclusion and understanding across the generations.

Best practices for fostering inclusion

It is important to find solutions that work for everyone. Each organisation is unique and needs to find its own way of building an inclusive workplace, but here are some ideas to consider:

  • Take a flexible approach: With such vast differences in attitudes, experiences, life-stage, values, and expectations, a ‘one size fits all’ approach will only lead to discrimination and dissatisfaction. Taking the time to identify and understand the varied needs of your employees through detailed employee surveys and active listening can help you tailor your approach and provide the right range of policies and benefits.
  • Consider different life stages: With five generations working together, individuals will be experiencing different stages of life. From buying a first house to becoming parents or navigating menopause or retirement, being able to cater to different paths and activities is crucial to attracting, engaging and retaining your workforce.
  • Encourage collaboration: Ensuring that your team has opportunities to get to know each other both inside and outside of work – and encouraging different demographics to mix – leads to better understanding and appreciation. Creating mentoring programmes where different generations can learn from each other and learn new skills can also lead to more positive and productive interactions.  

Harnessing the benefits of a multi-generational workforce can take organisations from strength to strength. This can only be achieved if leaders continue to take steps to combat ageism in the workplace and build equitable and supportive environments that bring out the best of their teams. With the oldest members of Generation Alpha only two years away from entering the workforce -who will bring a new range of experiences, perspectives and expectations - organisations need to make sure they are set up continued success and inclusion.

For more workplace insights, access the 2024 Talent Trends Global and UK reports . Our HR Advisory team is here to support your organisation on issues like age discrimination: request a call back and someone will be in touch.

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