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Perceptions of age at work: What do employees aged 16 to 80 think?


An SD Worx Conference panel explored younger people's desire for recognition, and the need for older employees to learn from them

As people work for longer, up to five generations can now be found in the workplace.

A panel session at this year's SD Worx European Conference brought together six workers between the ages of 16 and 80 to reflect on their experiences and hopes in a multigenerational workforce. This is what we learned.

The ‘iGeneration' want recognition at work

The youngest of the panel, 16-year-old Pippa Campbell of the ‘iGeneration’, said that she felt as though she was valued in the workplace and that this was important to her generation. (Campbell recently completed work experience with SD Worx.)

“When I go into full-time work I expect recognition and to hear about opportunities," she said. “I was lucky on my placement; I always felt as if I was valued and was asked to contribute and offer my thoughts at meetings.

"As someone who is creative I always have ideas and appreciate the chance to be listened to. A lot of people around my age feel the same,” she said.

In response to Campbell’s comments, rewards and payroll manager at WHSmith Vickie Pooley, representing Generation X, said that Campbell’s views showed a positive societal change.

“When I first entered the workplace I don’t think I would have had the same confidence," she commented. "This is partly a societal change: in the '80s Thatcherism meant that competition was high. A lot of us just felt grateful to be in work and didn’t feel we were able to put ourselves forward for opportunities.”

Young people feel underestimated

Both 19-year-old Leanne Talbot, a manager at Odeon from Generation Z, and commercial manager at Costain Rebecca Fleming (representing the Millennial generation), said that they often felt as though younger people were underestimated.

“When I tell people that I’m a manager at my age I get a mix of reactions," said Talbot. "People are generally impressed, but now and again you get the impression that people assume you can’t handle the responsibility of management.

"It’s disappointing, because I love my job and I want to feel that I’m judged on my skills, not my age."

Fleming concurred, reporting she’d experienced instances of older workers feeling embarrassed to admit that she held a position senior to them.

First Actuarial’s director Harry Tapper, representing the Baby Boomer generation, said that he sympathised with younger colleagues. “I think there are more challenges than ever before at work, and I feel sorry for younger people who have to fight harder for opportunities that came so easily to us. We got the security, we got to have fun at work, we had it all,” he said.

Older workers must stay up to speed with technology

Stuart Hetherington, an associate at the Corporate Research Forum (CRF) representing the 'traditionalist’ generation, added that older workers should be aware of technological changes.

“Social media and messaging services such as WhatsApp mean that you need to be so careful about what you say," he said. "Whereas you used to send a letter to a colleague or a client to express an opinion, which would take some time and allow you to gather your thoughts, technology means that you can do it in a second.

"I think there’s a lot we can learn from the younger generation, particularly with regards to technology,” he said.