How to manage a multi-generational workforce

How to manage a multi-generational workforce

By 2020, ‘Millennials’ will make up 35% of the UK workforce while the younger Generation Z will account for 25%. So we’re all going to continue working with people from a range of different age groups, with different perspectives, expectations and experience levels.

Managers will therefore need to ensure that all the different perspectives add to company culture rather than cause tension. And in the best companies, the different generations could even learn from each other.

We asked four marketing agency managers to outline what they think the issues are and to offer their solutions – from the retention of middle management and working parents to bridging the digital divide.

Mark Pinsent, Managing Director, Europe, The Hoffman Agency

Mark Pinsent

“It’s a huge challenge, for sure, and in the main the people who have to get to grips with a multi-generation workforce are the older ones. That would include me as – like others of my age – we still feel that we're in our twenties, when we're clearly not.

"So our role is to foster an appropriate work culture, but not to necessarily be it. The young entering the workforce have their challenges too, however. They have huge aspirations for their work and although senior leaders need to provide an exciting, agile and inspiring working environment, you also need to help them understand what rigour is and show them what good quality looks like. Agencies in particular tend to have a younger workforce. If we create an organisation that appeals to the young but we’re serving clients in their 30s, 40s and 50s, we have to strike a balance. There is also an assumption that the young are social media savvy and yet the evidence suggests that they do use messaging but not social media to the extent that older generations might expect, or even do themselves. The key to managing the generations is to help them learn from each other and they don’t do that through training or workshops but by spending time together – it happens almost by osmosis.”

Victoria Usher, Founder & CEO, GingerMay

“Firstly, facilitate a two-way conversation. It's easy for employers to make assumptions about their workforce based on the rise in popularity of generational profiling. It's why we saw ping pong tables and office slides sweeping Millennial-heavy start-ups, and then confusion when staff satisfaction levels remained low. My advice is to ditch what you think you know about age groups and open up a two-way conversation with staff across your organisation.

Victoria Usher

“We conduct regular, anonymous surveys with our multi-generational team to ensure the perks and benefits we offer hit the mark. We also encourage representatives from each department to attend a monthly employee forum on behalf of their peers where they can suggest areas of improvement within the business.

“Secondly, Think beyond the pub. Spending quality time with colleagues outside the office environment goes a long way in strengthening interpersonal relationships and boosting staff morale, but it's important to remember that not everybody can make after-work office drinks. To ensure we offer our multi-generational team a variety of opportunities to socialise with their colleagues, we appointed a dedicated social committee in 2014 called GingerSocial. GingerSocial is run by a team of four volunteers from across the business who organise regular internal and external social events that cater to a variety of interests and schedules, funded entirely by our business. This ensures that colleagues across departments (and generations) come together at least once a month to socialise and get to know each other.

“Finally, encourage knowledge sharing. There's a huge amount of value to be enjoyed from a multi-generational workforce, particularly the opportunity to share knowledge.

“Ultimately every employee, regardless of age or experience, has a unique skillset and attributes that others can learn from. Combining reverse and traditional mentoring programmes into the workforce can unite the multi-generational workforce by encouraging collaboration. We introduced a successful mentoring scheme last year which matches employees within the business and encourages them to learn from each other's skills and experience.”

Giles Peddy, Senior Vice President, Europe, Middle East, Africa, LEWIS Communications

Giles Peddy

“This time last year, we were working hard across the globe to build our services as the industry evolved. One aim was to engage everyone with recognizing the importance of digital marketing. So we decided to get everybody into Google Garage, the online tutorials on digital marketing fundamentals, and get them certified. We gave everyone two months to do it. By the end of 2018, around 98% of our people had completed it. Even people in HR and Finance, who are not thinking about our clients, were doing it.
This was our way of saying to our people – at all levels and all ages – this is where the industry is going; we need to think about SEO, organic, paid organic, and so on. So it’s not about the generations now but a mindset. This gave everyone a base layer; an appreciation of how all this works, and we then backed it up with deeper training.”

Mark Lowe, Co-Founder, Third City

Mark Lowe

"The problem with the multi-generational workforce in marketing agencies is that it doesn't really exist. Most agencies are populated by just two generations, the twenty-somethings – currently millennial – and a male dominated management layer in their thirties and forties. This reflects entrenched working practices in the industry which create burn-out among younger workers and push women of child-bearing age out of the industry completely. Thankfully it is slowly changing, thanks to a more activist workforce who are not prepared to accept outdated working practices and an enlightened approach to flexible working, which reflects the huge contribution that parents can continue to make."

Find your generation

  • The Greatest Generation – born 1925-1946
  • Baby Boomers – born 1946-1964
  • Generation X – born 1965-1980
  • Generation Y or Millennials – born after 1980
  • Generation Z or Post-Millennials – born 1996-2010