Select Page


Image via

I’ve been asked to speak at an event next month about next generation HR and one of the areas I’ve been thinking about is how we have multiple generations in the workplace right now and in many ways we’re still treating employees the same way they were treated in the 70’s.

With the removal of the compulsory retirement age we’ve seen the rise of the Silver Worker, the Baby Boomers who are still going strong bringing wisdom and experience as they travel in to work from their low mortgaged (possibly even paid off) homes, kids left home and possibly even grandkids. Memories of the distant 3 day week and power cuts along with queuing for water in the 76 drought.  The generation that owned houses and cars outright, saw the rise of the package holiday and still had final salary pensions.

We’ve got generation X – the Thatcher generation who faced the recession in the late 80s but were still able to go to University with some of them getting grants at a level that you could actually live off.  The comprehensive kids making good and the increase in global working, the mobile phones and laptops, big hair, big shoulder pads, All Bar Ones and Bridget Jones.  The buy buy buy sell sell sell loadsamoney architects of the 2008 crash through their greed, yuppie flu and cocaine habits. For these folks 50 is the new 30 and botox a twice yearly treat.

And here we have Gen Y, the much maligned Millennials, the ones who can’t afford to buy houses because they are too busy having smashed avocados for brunch*.  What we’re told about this generation is that they want to work differently, want more flexibility with their hours, want to be able to work from home or co-work in a coffice or dedicated co-working space**.  They want to work for organization with a conscience that understand sustainability for the planet, economy and employees.  They want 1 month off to head to Burning Man and short office hours in the summer to enjoy They want fuzebal and slides and they want it all now, but only for a few years as they will then change careers.  They want fast internet and no queues, they want it at the touch of a button and will share it on Instagram (because if it’s not on insta did you even eat it?).

And what’s next – we’re now seeing those born in this new millennium, the Gen Z, come of age and join the workforce.  What is it that they expect from the workplace and employment?  They can probably never afford to buy their own homes so where will they live, how long will they travel for work, what will meaningful work look like to them?

Still here?  So you know that a lot of the above is rubbish and most folk still just want better work, better pay and benefits and a good balance.  They want to do a good job and go home at the end of their shift knowing that they are valued.

Do we need to change our workplaces to adapt to the various generations?  Well yes, probably in my opinion but I’m less sure it’s about generations than it is about individuals likes and dislikes, individual’s ways of working.

Having an annual leave policy that only allows people to take a maximum of two weeks from June to September is probably too restrictive.  It comes from the days when the factories in different towns had different close down weeks so as not to flood the seaside towns with everyone at once.  In Lancashire they were known as Wakes Weeks and until the mid 2000 the school holidays in the towns across East Lancashire were staggered so that the guest houses of Blackpool didn’t get overwhelmed……

Requiring knowledge workers to be at their desks from 9-5.30 Monday to Friday even when the technology means that they could work anywhere in the world and, if we were output driven, at any time to suit them.  Maybe it’s time to look at the structure of the working week.  With globalization and the 24/7 economy does the old way give businesses the best resources and give people the best ways of working?

Requiring a suit and tie or office appropriate shoes, or no visible tattoos or piercings in an age when a third of young adults are likely to have them.  How does how they are dressed affect their ability to write a proposal?  How does a decision to have permanent ink impact their ability to read a balance sheet?

I wonder what else we have in place that is there because it always has been and whether our policies and practices need to move with the times and reflect the reality we are living and working in now.

*Seriously someone said that…….friends of mine that are teachers in London and enjoy a spot of brunch did the maths.  They live in Islington, where the average cost of a property is £786,000 (via Zoopla).  Let’s say they need a 10% deposit so they need to save £78,600.  Even if they get their smashed avo at the Wolesley we’re maybe looking at £40 a week that they could be saving.  That’s £2,080  year (assuming they Brunch every week) so only 38 years for them to save for a deposit.

**I love a co-working space, I am a Lounge Member at The Office Group and it’s brilliant.