Cross-generational employee engagement with Martin Fitzpatrick | S1 E3

First published: 23 June, 2020

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Cross-generational employee engagement with Martin Fitzpatrick | S1 E3

Reasons an older workforce is a business benefit

The workplace is becoming more multigenerational, with employees more likely to continue working longer. Does an older workforce really cause challenges that businesses otherwise wouldn’t have? Martin Fitzpatrick, who has filled many senior internal communications roles with several major organisations, discusses statistics and myths that will leave organisations better informed to deliver effective business strategies for their multigenerational workforces.

Workplaces reflect society

The entry of millennials into the workforce – and how organisations need to adapt to accommodate them – has been a hot topic for several years. However, when you examine workforces, especially those of larger organisations, you’ll see that they are representative of society. Martin Fitzpatrick confirms this, saying that, as well as the millennials, “there’s the existing workforce, the long-term people who are in their 50s, 60s and even 70s all working in that same environment.
Martin points out that:

  • 1 in 3 workers in the UK are over 50
  • 1 in 7 workers in the UK are over 75
  • The ‘grey economy’ is huge, with more than £473 billion spent each year by this demographic

Whereas younger workers usually desire to step into leadership and build careers in their 30s and 40s, those in their 50s and older are often seeking to get more from work than career development or financial reward. Organisations that can offer their older workers the purpose they seek can build dynamic businesses with lots of positive reinforcement around what those communities want from their work.

Exploding the myths associated with older employees

When considering older employees, there are some common beliefs that simply aren’t true – backed by little actual research. Here are a few that may sound familiar to you:

Older workers don’t care about the business they are working in

Not true. While they may be on their second or third career, they aren’t yet “on the glide path out”. In fact, they are in the job they do because it resonates with them. They are looking for purpose in their work, and they have found it. That’s a powerful weapon for businesses to harness.

Hiring an older worker is riskier

There’s a feeling that older workers are likely to leave sooner. The opposite is true. Martin points to research that shows the average tenure of someone in their 30s is only two years compared to five years for workers over 50. If you only look at the financial cost of employee turnover, you can halve the costs of hiring, retraining and embedding by hiring older employees.

Older employees aren’t tech savvy

Something that we often hear is that older employees are not tech savvy, or wouldn’t be able to pick up new technology easily (if at all). This is the generation that built the infrastructure we use today. Yes, social media is relatively new, but most older people have been using social media since it first became a thing.

In a constantly changing world, older workers don’t handle change well

As Martin puts it, this myth is “a demonstrable nonsense”. The older generation has lived through some of the biggest changes this world has ever seen.

They’ve been through the introduction of word processing, the introduction of PCs in the office, then into the home, and then cloud computing has arrived through their time,” says Martin. Huge seismic shifts through which only workers in their 50s and 60s have lived. Older workers can deal with change because they have, and they continue to do so.

Don’t stereotype older workers

A recent “Personnel Today” discussed cross-generational workforces under three headings: sick pay, cancer, and mental health. When myths about older workers can be refuted so easily, it appears unwise to be drawn into stereotyping them.

Older workers have multiple skills and a multitude of experience that could benefit most employers. Who else could you employ with such experience to share and the skills to lend a hand where and when it is needed most?

Reconceive the challenges when hiring

There are, of course, challenges to be overcome when hiring older workers into a multigenerational workforce. However, the perception of these challenges may mean that an organisation misses the opportunities they present. For example, older workers may:

  • Require accessibility provision, such as screen readers or special tools to do their job effectively
  • Need to have job routines changed and tasks managed differently, perhaps to accommodate less strength or a disability
  • need to work more flexibly because of increased health issues or that they are more likely to be carers

Addressing such challenges is not a generational issue. It’s a capability issue. When overcoming these challenges, an organisation invests in being more adaptable for all its staff, suppliers and customers.

Engaging a multigenerational workforce

Martin believes that developing a multigenerational workforce should not be dependent upon how you communicate, but rather what you communicate. It’s important to understand what each employee wants, and to ask them what you do well and what you do poorly. Martin also says that:

You need to decide who are your allies within your business, who else is really passionate about this, and can you build enough momentum to really give it a go? Because nothing will disengage people worse than asking their opinions, getting lots of feedback, and not actually being able to deliver on any of it.

Useful links

Martin’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/martin-fitzpatrick/

The Engaging Internal Comms public Facebook page (please like this): https://www.facebook.com/engagingic

The Engaging Internal Comms private Facebook group (please join this): https://www.facebook.com/groups/798189050586154/

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