Dr Michela Coppola and Gildas Poirel of Deloitte explain why a focus on age can mislead workforce development.
Organisations in Europe are grappling with the consequences of a rapidly ageing workforce. Declining birth rates following the baby boomer generation (1946–64) means countries now face shrinking populations. This leaves organisations chasing a diminishing pool of younger talent. Meanwhile, improvements in health and mortality, as well as increases in the minimum age to access retirement benefits, in countries such as Germany, Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom, means people are working longer.
These trends are dramatically altering the demographic profile of the workforce. For example, the number of workers in Europe age 50+ increased by 32 per cent from 2010–19, while those below age 35 declined slightly (-1%). Whereas the 27 countries in the European Union plus the United Kingdom had 58 million workers age 50+ in 2010, in fewer than ten years this number had risen to 77 million. At the same time, those below age 35 fell from 70 million to 69 million.
Managing an increasing multigenerational workforce brings a set of new challenges. Organisations must walk a fine line between creating opportunities for young employees to advance (or risk losing them) while also ensuring veterans, whose skills are needed in tight labour markets, feel included. Further, to maintain productivity and innovation, organisations must persuade employees of different ages and backgrounds to collaborate. This demands an ability to identify the skills and strengths of individuals, recognise how they can contribute and understand how to engage with them.
However, the 2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends reported that only 6 per cent of survey respondents strongly agree that their leaders are equipped to lead such a workforce effectively. The issue is that age and generation have been the traditional lens through which organisations view their workforce. This demographic profiling forms the basis of talent management strategies. Programmes of career and leadership development, compensation, learning and talent acquisition are all premised heavily on employees’ age.
As workforce composition becomes more complex, the question arises of whether traditional segmentation, anchored in a generational approach, should remain the focus of future human resources strategies.
The chaos and opportunity of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an accelerator and amplifier of changes within the working environment. The unprecedented containment measures used to curb the spread of the virus forced organisations to rapidly enact radical new ways of working and operating. Remote working, flexible hours and digitalisation solutions have all been implemented rapidly and at scale for an extended period.
This period of disruption provides an opportunity to examine how employees of different ages experience, react and adapt to intense change. Such an examination can serve to highlight possible flaws in relying on a generational lens to segment, manage and develop the workforce.
The Deloitte European Workforce Survey collected the opinions of more than 10,000 employees in seven countries across Europe. This article, the final in the series of three ‘voice of the workforce’ pieces, analyses the role age plays in the modern workplace.
Considering that the COVID-19 crisis has been global and experienced by whole populations, it could be assumed that there are major disparities between how different age groups within the workforce have experienced the pandemic. Indeed, the results show differences are present between the experiences of the various generations, but not in the manner that could, perhaps, be expected.
What is revealed is that there are distinct generational differences in how respondents perceive the changes wrought by COVID-19. Almost 80 per cent of all respondents report that they have experienced at least one kind of change to their working lives, but it is younger employees who are more likely to report experiencing at least one change to a moderate or significant extent.
In comparison, the older the employee, the higher the likelihood is that they experienced no changes at all or only to a small extent.
This pattern is also evident when specific changes are examined. The survey asked about nine specific workplace changes driven by COVID-19, including remote working for an extended period, shift in the skills needed, use of technology and requirement for a more flexible working schedule. The likelihood of having experienced a specific change to a moderate/large extent diminished with age – even when other factors that might explain the answers (such as country, family situation, industry or occupation) are accounted for.
For example, while 46 per cent of respondents below age 30 experienced a significant shift in work priorities, only 28 per cent age 60+ reported the same. Similarly, while 44 per cent below age 30 experienced a moderate/large shift in the type of tasks performed, only 26 per cent of those age 50+ had a similar experience.
Although the pandemic has affected employees in diverse ways, it is difficult to imagine that older employees have been spared the effects in such a systematic fashion. What accounts for the difference in responses between generations could be the perception of how far reaching the changes are by the various age groups.
By Dr Michela Coppola and Gildas Poirel
Read the full article here.