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You need to attract and retain a multi-generational workforce. Here’s how

Our candidate pool has never been richer, wider, or more diverse, but to unlock its firepower, we must take front-footed routes to engagement, rewards, and retention, says Niki Turner-Harding

Niki Turner-Harding attract and retain talent illustration

There are currently five generations working side by side in the UK labour force. Thanks to an ageing population, the cost-of-living crunch and changing attitudes to retirement, businesses are supporting staff whose core cultural references span everything from The Beatles to ChatGPT.

Today’s multi-generational hiring market is a win for diversity, but it creates complex attraction and retention challenges. How can small and medium-sized companies be all things to all cohorts? And how can they cost-effectively deliver on each age group’s preferences and priorities?

While it’s easy to focus on pitfalls, stereotypes and preconceptions, different demographics can still successfully coexist and collaborate. Each segment contributes singular strengths, perspectives, and experience to the workplace. So, what elements do you need to take into consideration to take advantage of a synergistic solution to the UK’s widening skills gap?

Align policies and benefits

When age-diverse workforces are the norm, businesses need to deliver pay and benefits packages that satisfy everyone from graduates to grandparents. For example, while generous salaries, flexibility and work-life balance are universally valued, recent LinkedIn data shows young workers prioritise career advancement (36 per cent) and skills development (34 per cent).

Within this cohort, corporate purpose counts. The Deloitte Global 2023 Gen Z and Millennial report found that ‘zoomers’ want to be morally and ethically aligned with their employers and for their role to drive change.

While it’s easy to focus on pitfalls, stereotypes and preconceptions, different demographics can still successfully coexist and collaborate

At the other end of the spectrum, senior staff look for stability and age-inclusive workplaces. Think solid pensions, health MOTs and flexible working arrangements. Increasingly popular phased retirement plans allow staff gradually to step back from their roles, while companies retain expertise and facilitate knowledge transfer to their wider teams.

Mid-lifers, particularly women over 50, are the fastest-growing section of the working population. This time-poor generation of carers – tending to parents, toddlers and teenagers – require support to keep the plates spinning and thrive personally and professionally. Benefits need to include menopause policies, flexible work options, mental health and wellbeing schemes, and career sabbaticals.

Communicate effectively across the generations

While every generation contributes unique skills and strong points, they also labour under stubborn and divisive stereotypes: boomers are out of touch; gen X can’t handle change; millennials are work-shy snowflakes.

To build respect and boost productivity, introduce initiatives that develop collaboration and understanding. These could include:

  • Normalise success at any age and challenge age-linked value. Reward behaviours that champion an age-inclusive culture.
  • Consider workshops that bring colleagues together to find team-based solutions and share experience and expertise.
  • Implement intergenerational mentoring programmes that foster knowledge exchange, skills development and shared objectives. Upend traditional dynamics by allowing younger employees to guide senior colleagues.
  • Create age-diverse teams of colleagues with different outlooks, approaches and experience levels. Committing to a clear organisational purpose can nurture community spirit and achieve common goals.

To navigate seismic shifts such as the AI revolution and green transition, businesses need all hands to the pump. Through proactive recruitment, effective communication and employee support, organisations can build cohesive and age-inclusive workforces equipped for the challenge.

Our candidate pool has never been richer, wider, or more diverse, but to unlock its firepower, we must take front-footed routes to engagement, rewards, and retention – and make multi-generational management a key priority.


Niki Turner-Harding is country head, UK and Ireland, at Adecco. Follow her on LinkedIn here

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