The age composition of the UK is changing, and with these changes come a multitude of benefits and of course challenges for organisations when it comes to Managing Intergenerational Differences.

On Thursday, November 2nd we were joined by over 100 HR Leads, Talent Acquisition Specialists and Advisors, all of whom have a few things in common:

  • Members of GRN (Graduate Recruiters Network)
  • Motivated to understand more about age diversity in the workplace
  • A keen interest in the development of diversity and understanding how to minimise the challenges and maximise the benefits associated with generational differences

Our internal team worked through hundreds of questions submitted by members from businesses of all sizes ahead of the webinar, grouping them by topic to ensure we could cover the most pressing issues.

From the questions submitted and the news coverage of such topics (namely in publications such as the Harvard Business Review, HR News and Forbes), we were able to establish three key areas of focus for the discussion:

  • The relevance of ED&I (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) in intergenerational issues
  • Intergenerational challenges and support suggestions for leaders and managers
  • The impacts of hybrid working on intergenerational differences

The brilliant Dr. Arlene Egan, Chief Executive Officer of the Roffey Park Institute, used her 25+ years of experience to provide insights, experiences and suggestions for managing intergenerational differences in the workplace.


Great Debate


Some of the invaluable key takeaways from Arlene’s time speaking on this topic were as follows:

1. Organisational approaches to ED&I set the tone for intergenerational issues:

Arlene confirmed that ED&I shouldn’t be owned by one person in an organisation. Instead, the approach should be business-wide and rely on the organisation asking the following,

  • How open are we to understanding differences?
  • Where do we need to work harder?
  • What are the benefits of diversity in our workforce?

2. Addressing biases and barriers in the workplace:
Arlene confirmed there are biases that we are dealing with all the time and to overcome these we need to establish ‘what are the blockers?’

  • Is it old-school leadership teams?
  • Is it cognitive biases and assumptions?
  • Is it a lack of energy and enthusiasm in our approach to understanding how to maximise the differences?

By asking ourselves these questions, we can actively work to remove these patterns in our workplace.

3. Understand the value of reverse mentoring:
Reverse mentoring can be an extremely powerful and cost-effective tool for businesses without large L&D budgets. The power behind the skill swap is ingrained in understanding the value of learning through relationships, stories, experiences and interactions.

4. Bridging the gap between academia and the workplace:
Arlene suggests this question must be answered once and for all. We have been talking about the gap between university education and the workplace for too long, without taking any real action. Arlene acknowledges that the responsibility for changing this narrative lies in multiple places, but we can actively create brilliant opportunities in the form of workplace readiness programmes with a simple yet harmonious approach between universities and employers. This will establish a clear system, helping students to identify the skills they already have and how they can translate these into a working environment.

5. Employee belonging, empowerment and communication:
Organisational communication guidelines not only underpin how your workforce communicates but also create a sense of belonging and employee empowerment. If we look at intergenerational communication issues from a fresh perspective, we can see that similar issues can arise between two individuals with different mindsets, let alone individuals from two different generations. What we also know about early talent is that there is a clear desire to be involved in more than just studies and work. To expand organisational communication to a successful organisational culture, we must ensure we are providing opportunities for our early talent employees to create their own sense of belonging within the business.

6. Adapting to changing managerial expectations:
Being a manager has changed. Since COVID, the expectations of managers and leaders have grown dramatically. Each generation has had a different reaction to these changes; while some have embraced being back in the office, others have struggled. People are bringing more of themselves into the workplace than ever before and so there are not only intergenerational complexities but life complexities to manage. There is an expectation now that managers will be there to manage the tasks of their team and the care of their team. One of the big challenges managers and leaders will face in this new working environment is learning what they can and cannot make decisions about. Arlene confirms, ‘when it comes to your team, you need autonomy to enable diversity to be a positive experience and not a blocker to success’. She continues ‘managers need more training and understanding of these structural changes in order to capitalise on these differences’.

7. One size does not fit all when it comes to organisational culture:
A robust organisational culture is essential for fostering accountability and ownership. It involves creating an environment where individuals are encouraged to take initiative, learn and grow from mistakes without the fear of reprisal. Nurturing this approach allows organisations to actively shape and mould the development of their staff across all generations while maintaining a positive approach to employee empowerment and instilling a sense of belonging.

8. Embracing the vital role of hybrid working in today’s dynamic workforce:
Eliminating hybrid working opportunities poses a huge risk to organisational growth. A recent report even confirms that organisations removing hybrid working opportunities can expect to lose talent across all generations, not just Gen Z, as the flexibility hybrid working offers has become crucial to work-life balance. Organisations considering the move to in-office work should evaluate the benefits for individuals, clients and the overall company before adopting an office-centric approach. The resounding message for organisations is that employees prioritise flexibility over perks and financial incentives.

The ability to address intergenerational issues and see challenges as opportunities for reflection and growth is invaluable to businesses in all industries.

Dr Arlene Egan’s insights have highlighted key considerations, from the power of reverse mentoring to bridging the academia-workplace gap, fostering employee belonging, and adapting to changing managerial expectations.

Did you miss our ‘Managing Intergenerational Differences in the Workplace’ Great Debate with Dr. Arlene Egan? You can watch the full recording below!