You might think working well into your eighth decade is preposterous. But it is becoming relatively commonplace. The number of working people age 65 and older reached an all-time low in 2001, when just 13% held jobs. Now that rate is rebounding, and the number of workers older than 65 is 18% of the workforce.
The Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” survey asked 1,189 workers across the generations how likely they thought they were to work past age 70.
Seventy-seven percent of baby boomers (between ages of 48 and 66) said they believed they would work into their 70s. What is surprising is that 82% of Gen Xers (between ages of 36 and 47) agreed.
There are a number of reasons for employees to believe they will be working longer. First, they are already living longer. Boomers are expected to live longer than any previous generation of Americans. Of the 3.4 million born in 1946 — including Bill Clinton, George and Laura Bush, Donald Trump, Susan Sarandon, Steven Speilberg and Sylvester Stallone — 2.8 million are still alive. The men can expect to live another 22 years, the women another 25.
By 2030, when the first baby boomers reach the age of 84, the number of Americans older than 65 will have grown by 75%, to 69 million. This means more than 20% of the population will be older then 65.
And since we are living longer, we may want and need to work longer – especially to meet the financial needs caused by sagging retirement accounts, and plunging property values. As careers get longer, workplace culture will have to accommodate age diversity. Some traditionalists (those 66 and older) and baby boomers are already working further into their 70s and 80s, so as a new batch of employees from “Generation 2020″ (born after 1997) graduates from college and joins the workforce, it will become common to find five generations working side by side at the office.
A multigenerational workplace has plenty of advantages, including the potential for knowledge sharing, mentoring and coaching. But it can also create tension, the likes of which can erode office morale and sabotage productivity.
The “Generations @ Work” survey asked workers about their expectations and requirements for an employer. The study found the struggles among the generations often eclipsed the advantages.
As originally discussed, in my book, The 2020 Workplace, each generation brings its own lens to the workplace, and individual and group talents can become obscured by assumptions, myths and real or perceived tensions and criticisms. This can lead to havoc in the workplace.
Here are five ways to address and prevent generational tension at your company:
Teach your managers to anticipate generational differences, starting in the recruiting process.
Many young workers today approach job interviews differently than their predecessors. For our survey, we asked a sample of 150 managers to give us examples of surprising questions they’ve been asked by interviewees, most of whom were of millennial age. To the surprise of managers, millennials asked questions such as:
“Do I have to show up each day?”
“Can I use my own tablet, phone and laptop at work?
“Do I have to wear shoes to work?”
These questions can seem irreverent, but managers must understand what’s really behind them. The applicant who asks if he has to show up each day is really inquiring about the company’s telework policies and flexibility. The applicant who inquires about her ability to bring her own devices to work each day is really asking if the company has a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work policy in place to allow employees to use their own devices instead of company-owned, standard devices.
And, if you are ever faced with a question about shoes, remember Steve Jobs – he frequently went barefoot to work!
Be aware of each generation’s preferred learning and communication styles.
In our survey, 35% of Generation 2020 said they consider mentoring and coaching the most valuable form of career development with only 20% preferring the classroom. This generation also prefers to use the latest tools – such as mobile devices, gaming, video sharing and social networks – for learning new skills.
A study by Deloitte Consulting and the IABC confirms this finding as it relates to communication styles. The study concluded that younger workers want information delivered immediately, and in shorter and more-frequent chunks. Speed and frequency of communication are important to them.
Google provides a good example of how to use games to boost productivity. Google‘s management realized that the company’s large spread of office space was cutting down on human interaction. To help foster connections, the company built an online, multiplayer social game called GoCrossOffice, modeled after the game Risk. Players collaborate, organize and socialize with each other, and in the process, strengthen their team-building and strategic-thinking skills. Since then, other companies have joined in this trend, too.
Enlist Millennials as subject-matter experts on what appeals to their generation.
Some companies think of millennials as a problem to be solved in the workplace. But the forward-looking ones enlist millennials when they are trying to adopt a new product or service inside the company.
Neiman Marcus Director of Learning and Development Keith Meyerson relied on millennials who work for Neiman Marcus to promote the collaboration module of the company’s learning management system (LMS). Instead of using a top-down communication program, Neiman Marcus focused on communicating from the bottom up by using millennials to drive participation and share this practice with older workers who are typically not early adopters of new tools in the workplace.
Don’t believe the myths about each generation in the workplace.
It would be easy to put each generation in a box and characterize them based on stereotypes. But there are also plenty of similarities to be found among workers of all ages.
For instance, flexibility has become an increasingly valued workplace characteristic by workers of every generation. When Future Workplace asked how important a flexible work environment was, 35% of our survey respondents, across all ages, answered either “important” or “very important.” For all generations, flexibility –flexible hours and flexibility of location (i.e., telework) – was more important than both compensation and opportunities for advancement.
As more organizations see the importance of offering flexibility in the workplace, we will see this touted in recruiting materials as a way to attract talented new hires. Organizations will need to probe for more cross-generational priorities such as flexibility, and communicate with both current and prospective employees about how they are delivering on those demands.
Be prepared for generational tension.
Intergenerational conflict is impossible to prevent entirely, so be prepared to address it when it does arise.
In our survey, 66% of millennials agreed with the statement, “my personal drive can be intimidating to other generations in the workplace,” and the generations’ divergent views on what to expect in the workplace of the future further outlined that tension. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers found the same.
Take a cue from Bank of America and Pratt & Whitney. Both organizations have created Employee Resource Groups focusing on Multi Generational issues.
Why focus on the needs and expectations of a multi-generational workforce? Just think of your future employee, the one entering your workplace in 2030. According to the Office of National Statistics, one third of the babies born today in 2012 will live to see their hundredth birthday! Now consider the age of the oldest member on your team in 2030.
The employers who adapt most quickly to the realities of a multigenerational workforce will become the ones who attract and retain the highest-quality employees now and in the future.