30. January 2024

Why is everyone talking about… age gaps at work?

Personio Pulse: This Week in HR - 1

Welcome to Personio Pulse: This Week in HR, where each week we take a look at the latest trends in the world of work, what you need to know about them and what they mean for you as an HR professional. 

This week we’re covering how age gaps between managers and employees can affect productivity — and what that means for your HR team.

What you need to know

You’ve likely heard grumblings about how Gen-Z workers are like this or Baby Boomer workers are like that — the idea that different generations work differently is well-established. But new data pinpoints a specific productivity trap organisations can fall into if they don’t instate practices in the workplace to help different generations work together.

A recent report from the London School of Economics (LSE) and consulting firm Protiviti shows that employees who have larger age gaps with their managers report lower productivity than those who are closer in age. The main culprit? Intergenerational friction.

But there is hope: while 25% of employees self-report low productivity overall, this drops to just 13% in firms that establish intergenerationally inclusive work practices (more on that later). HR teams hoping to avoid this productivity trap have a clear way forward.

What others are saying about it 

Co-author of the research Dr Grace Lordan, Founder and Director of The Inclusion Initiative at LSE, said: “There is good evidence that across generations individuals have different tastes and preferences. So why do we expect them to work easily together? We now have five generations working together [...] and the skills that are required to manage these dynamics are not usually being taught by firms.”

She added: “Our research shows that if we invest in giving these skills to managers, and creating intergenerationally inclusive workplaces, there are significant productivity gains to be had.”

What that means for you

Some 40% of employees in the LSE survey reported that their company is failing to deliver an intergenerationally inclusive work culture, leaving productivity gains on the table while increasing potential conflict and employee dissatisfaction. 

Here’s what we’d recommend, not only to keep from falling into the same trap, but to tip the scales in the opposite direction:

  • Train managers in multigenerational leadership. Ensure they’re prepared to catch their own biases while forging connections and collaboration between generations — rather than perpetuating stereotypes. 

  • Implement policies that show every age group they belong. These policies will vary with each age group. For instance, Gen Z may appreciate mentorship programmes while Gen X might need more flexible working arrangements (see our post on Unretirement for tips). 

  • Commit to hiring and retaining a generationally-diverse workforce. Take stock of the age diversity in your organisation as it stands, and focus on attracting talent where you see gaps.

Harnessing the productivity gains of a multigenerational workforce will improve your company culture and your organisation’s bottom line. There’s no time to waste. 

What else should I read? 

That's all for this week's edition of Personio Pulse: This Week in HR. Check back next week as we continue to dissect the latest trends impacting the ways we work. 

Anna Jager-Elliott

Anna Jager-Elliott

Anna Jager-Elliott is a Senior Content Strategist at Personio. She enjoys watching trends emerge in the world of work and writing about how they'll affect our day-to-day experiences.

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