HR challenges of dealing with a five-generational workforce

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The arrival of Generation Z (born 1996 onwards) into the workplace means employers for the first time have to manage five generations of workers.

According to a nationwide report by KPMG, this could create cross-generational conflict, with younger workers feeling deprived of career opportunities as their older counterparts work on past the statutory retirement age.

How can HR manage this potential conflict and ensure harmony in a workforce made up of many different ages?

HR magazine asked HR director, Northumbrian Water, Sarah Salter (pictured) for her views:

For many years HR has been embroiled in the themes of age discrimination. We've had the removal of the default retirement age, the growing pensions crisis and the post-recession surge in youth unemployment, so we shouldn't be sleepwalking into this issue. Now we have to deal with the challenges in a five-generational workplace.

In emerging sectors such as digital and creative, green and renewables, there is a greater likelihood of opportunity for Gen Y and Z, who have grown up with different skills and reference points. The challenge here lies in engaging with the education sector to develop employability skills in our young people, develop insights into the world of work and find the common ground to make connections.

It's time to be honest with people about the new realities. It's about leading people to the realisation that growth and satisfaction come from diverse developmental experiences and different shapes of careers.

We should encourage people to take part in reverse mentoring or educational engagement projects like internships. Our challenge is to free up flexibility of thinking, to get people to take ownership of their personal growth in a way they haven't thought of before, whatever their life-stage.

We must equip our managers to have high-quality developmental conversations, help people explore what is right for them at their life-stage. Growing trust will enable richer conversations about priorities in later working life. Flexibility must be fostered to create a more fluid environment.

So what are practitioners to make of the five-generational workplace? Keep your head. Talk honestly about the new reality. Stimulate flexibility in career and talent conversations, job and organisation design, reward strategy and HR policy. Get into schools, colleges and universities and get close to the younger people who are our talent and our customers of the future. Then find the answer that is right for your business.

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