• Managing people

Are you engaging a multigenerational workforce?

The latest Foresight event from the FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance probes HR’s role in engaging a multigenerational workforce


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“Is there really a difference in the way certain generations think and behave?” – begins panel chair Michael Skapinker, FT columnist and Executive Editor of FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance – as he kicks-off a lively and entertaining breakfast event last week.

Leyla Boulton, Special Reports Editor and Executive Editor at the Financial Times was first to respond. “Regardless of age, all of my team members are looking for three things; mentorship and sponsorship, work-life balance, and learning and growth opportunities.”

“What separates them can be described by the tone that you take when you talk to them. Younger people need more direction. They are coming at their working life from a fresh place. Opaque organisations take a lot of knowledge to navigate successfully and we need to be explicit with that knowledge.”

“On the other hand, I feel that the older generation requires respect, to get the most out of them. My deputy is a millennial. In instances where performance management of older colleagues by this deputy is required, that can need careful managing – to make sure the correct tone is taken.”

Next to answer was Maria da Cunha – Director of People & Legal at British Airways. 

I believe the differences can be overstated. People universally want challenging and interesting work. People want control and autonomy. Everybody wants those things.

"There are some differences though. Millennials are much more goal-oriented than baby-boomers. They know what they want to achieve and where they want to go. They’re in a hurry to get there and want to be stretched doing it. The way they work can be very different too. They expect far greater transparency of information, to take one example.” 

Lilah Raptopoulos – Community Editor at the Financial Times (and representative on this panel for the entire Millennial generation, as she says!) – is next to share her thoughts. “In my first job one of my daily roles was helping an older guy turn Word documents into PDFs! So there were small IT things that were not native to him at all. Small things that as a millennial on the staff you can help with, so you do. It’s not just use of tech though, it’s comfort. We were raised with the internet.”

“Beyond technology I would say that there’s a difference in expectation. Millennials often hold the expectation that our jobs can grow and change. My team never existed at the FT 5 years ago, for example. We think, what is the next opportunity? Before I think it was more of a clear and defined career path.”

Anton Fishman – AI Educator, Business Adviser and Organisational Consultant at Fishman & Partners offered his response too. “We are hugely varied and so I am sceptical about generalisations across large groups. People have defined these tight boundaries and extraordinary differences from generation to generation. HR can be a bit of a sucker for these neat models. The millennial typography shorthand is useful in helping us understand certain changes in the workplace, but if it becomes a strict definition that we have to fit with it becomes frustrating.”

Leyla Boulton added; “We have this cliché of millennials changing jobs every year or two. I’ve found that if you create a place with opportunities and challenges, that they are in fact very grateful and eager to stay." 

I think it’s out of date to think a millennial will be out the door in a year or two. Certainly let’s not design our working environments specifically for those people.”

How are people managing older people, as workforces age through updated age discrimination laws?

“The compulsory retirement age going up means organisations have had to think seriously about what the distinctive qualities of those who are 30 or 40 years into their career really are. We can express very easily the values of millennials, for example, but do we value properly the qualities of those in their 50s, 60s, 70s? Deeper thinking is required here, and a proper value given to skills and traits that are acquired through age and experience."

Let’s not get hooked on technology fluency being the defining difference here.” 

We can sometimes talk about new additions to the workforce, or senior leadership, and we forget the middle group, in a ‘forgotten middle child’ syndrome. How do we keep them engaged?

Maria da Cunha said; “This is so important. The middle is the majority of your workforce oftentimes. I would say that people in the middle need progression and opportunity to grow. Development is really important for them. Family responsibilities make flexibility of the utmost importance too, to keep that middle piece of the workforce happy. We rarely lose maternity leave returners at British Airways for example, because you can keep building your career.”

Anton Fishman pondered on this; “How do we create career paths that are not hierarchical? Not everyone can be the chief executive. Broadening people’s diversity of experience, moving towards project work, perhaps flatter structures. We don’t necessarily climb up the ladder for the entirety of our careers. HR needs to think, ‘How do we give them the positive experience of growth, but not necessarily movement ‘up’ in a hierarchy?’”

Finally, Michael Skapinker closed by remarking, “We are talking about individuals, not generations, ultimately, which I think the panel articulated very well.”

You can learn more about future events from the FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance here.

Headspring was launched April 2019 as a continuation and development of the successful collaboration between the Financial Times and IE Business School, formerly known as FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance, an initiative created in 2015 to transform the way executive education and professional development meet the changing needs of business.

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