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The Generation Game – considering the needs of an age diverse workforce

I have been carrying out some research in partnership with the Leicestershire Fit for Work Service on the attitudes to employee health and wellbeing in the voluntary sector. One of the questions I’m asking is “How do organisations manage the health and wellbeing of a multigenerational workforce?” The replies to the question have been fairly consistent and usually start with “That’s a good question” and end in “We haven’t thought about that issue.”

I’m reasonably confident that view isn’t just confined to the voluntary sector, where, once you include volunteers it’s not uncommon to have staff between the ages of 18 and 80 working together delivering services.

Looking at the country as a whole, you can conclude that the picture is or will be similar in other sectors once you consider that;

  • In the near future the average age of the UK workforce is projected to be 43 years.
  • An increasing number of people who are in their 50’s now have no option but to continue working past traditional retirement ages because their pensions (private and Government) will not cover their living costs.
  • There are an increasing number of people who do not want to fully retire because they feel that working helps them to maintain their health.

With a steady increase in workforce’s where the youngest employee could be 16 and the oldest could be in their 70’s, the issue of a multigenerational workforce isn’t one that can simply be ignored.  In addition, recent research about the health of employees suggests that 1 in 3 of the working population (over 11m people) have at least one long term health condition, a % that is growing as we age (15% of 16-24 year olds, to 57% of 65-74 year olds) so employers have a challenge on their hands.

So what can organisations do? Well, one of the choices is whether to avoid or embrace this; I recently heard a CEO of a major employer in the UK imply that they didn’t really want to keep on employing people past the retirement age or you can take the view that there are some benefits of having a multigenerational workforce.

There is emerging evidence that a different approach on how you engage with a multigenerational workforce could be beneficial. Breaking down your workforce by generation can give an idea of the complexity of the issue.

Silent Generation:  Born before 1945

Baby Boomer: Born 1946-1964

Gen X: Born 1965-1980

Millennials: Born 1981-2000

Gen Z: Born after 1995

It is generally believed that different generations have different outlooks on work e.g. the Gen X “Work to Live” and the Baby Boomers “Live to Work” and that there is the emergence of the “Sandwich” generation who have child and carers responsibilities.

The main issue to engage your employees with is on their health. There is a large amount of evidence of the effects of poor health of employees in workplaces, with mental health issues continuing to rise. This year it has been reported that almost 1 in 6 of the working population have a diagnosable mental health condition and 9.9m days will be lost to work-related stress, anxiety and/or depression. There are some common issues across the generations that employees say affect their health; workload, flexibility, control, the relationship with their line manager and how sickness absence is managed.

There is also a growing argument that different approaches are required to meet the needs and expectations of different generations. An example of how this can be done is in office design, where we are beginning to see the rise of open plan offices being changed to a mixture of traditional desks, hot desks, open spaces and communication hubs.  These are modelled to suit the needs of each generation. A short time ago this was seen as something that a contemporary company like Google would do, but it is now filtering through to a wider range of other organisations.

I don’t think that there is anything specifically new about how you engage with a multigenerational workforce; the key is that the organisation has to be “well managed.”  We often see that training for line managers in the UK lags behind other more productive countries such as France.  Therefore, my vision of how an organisation can manage health and wellbeing effectively regardless of the age of their employees would include:

  • Managers who are trained in managing the expectations of multigenerational employees, with a particular emphasis on mental health issues. Devising the most flexible approach to how employees can carry out their work.
  • That staff have an appropriate level of control over workload.
  • Having a proportionate sickness absence policy, that doesn’t penalise employees with long term health conditions.

The issue of how organisations respond to an age diverse workforce is growing in importance and one that is seemingly being ignored from the research I’ve carried out so far.

If you would like to know more about the issues I’ve raised or to share your experiences of working with age-diverse colleagues, we are holding a free workshop as part of the Fringe Events that are accompanying the MADE Festival, on Wednesday 9th November 1.45 – 2.45pm at Electric Works.  For more details and to book a place click here.

Good Work?

My aim is to post on a more regular basis from now on. All comments welcome.

I was interested by the recent news that the Welsh government had used some research by the New Economic Foundation (NEF) (1) on what was a “good job” as a part of their national indicators (2), they used the words “Percentage of people moderately or very satisfied with their jobs”. The definition that was developed by NEF was “everyone should be able to find secure, stable employment that pays at least enough to provide a decent standard of living.” While both definitions are a good start, it got me thinking about what is a “good” job. What about, the other parts of your job that make you come into your workplace and feel that you are valued and respected and that allow you to get on with your job.

I know from my job, what makes it good is having control over the way I do my job and the amount of flexibility I have to carry out my role against the needs of my family e.g. being able pick up from school. But I also decided to speak to colleagues from other companies in different sectors and here is a summary of what they thought is a “good” job;

  • Security – regular hours/ minimum contract / permanent position / same pay monthly
  • Flexibility – Support if I need to leave work to attend a school function or event, work from home with sick children, etc.
  • Appreciation – simple gesture of thanks from your manager or employer including ways to show your appreciation of the team you work in.
  • Involvement – involving staff in all aspects of the organisation and its decision making.
  • Support – working in a supportive environment, being given help and support and being helped and supported in turn and being expected to give support where needed.
  • People – fostering and developing bonds, one of the biggest reasons people said why they would not want to leave where they work is the people they work with.
  • Money – Being paid a fair wage, for what you do – this is not necessarily a great wage, but perceived to be fair and just, if you compare your workload and pay to another user in a similar role or company.

The amount people were paid wasn’t their top criterion on what makes a good job. I make no claim of any conclusive proof on the views I collected, but it is similar to what patients who use our advice services say they want; security, flexibility, control and appreciation in their job. These kinds of issues are the ones that contribute to maintaining people’s health and wellbeing.

NEF state in their research “Wellbeing and health have both seen improvements, but the underlying structure of the UK’s economy has allowed inequality to widen. Economic recovery since 2008 has meant a rise in overall employment, but at the same time, the proportion of people in secure, decently-paid jobs has fallen”

A recent report from the CIPD (3) recently noted that only 8% of workplaces have a standalone health and wellbeing strategy, which does tend to confirm our experience that most employers view wellbeing as an-add on “or nice to have” activity.

So with a chance of a recession being 50/50 according to many economists following our exit from the EU, is the proportion of people employed in “good” jobs going to go down or are we going to see employers look again about giving their employees an environment where they feel that they can be productive whatever the economic outlook.

  1. NEF:
  2. Welsh government: National indicator for Wales 2016
  3. Miller J, Suff R. growing the health and agenda: from first steps to full potential. London: CIPD. 2016


Fit notes and sickness absence

Two interesting documents arrived in my inbox today, An evaluation of fit notes from an employees perspective by the DWP:

and the 2013 Sickness Absence and Rehabilitation Survey 2013 by EEF:

 What is interesting is the difference in perception when talking about how well (or not!) fit notes are issued and used. The DWP report talks about the majority of GPs and employers having understood the types of changes in work that would be helpful to employees, while the EEF report shows that there are a substantial number of employers who feel that fit notes are not helping their employees to return to work earlier.  What the DWP report does show is that only a small percentage of fit notes issued gave information on what kind of help their patient needed to return to work. The EEF report suggests that the GP is solely responsible in ensuring that employees return to work as early as possible. While I’m not comparing like with like in terms of the two reports, I suspect that the realities of how effective fit notes are in returning employees back to work lie somewhere in the middle of these 2 reports.

 An employer has a duty of care to their employees to ensure that their health is not affected by their work and for an employee to take a responsible approach to managing their health so it doesn’t affect their work. The GP sits in the middle to give advice and support that should be beneficial to both the patient and their employer.

 There is no doubt that GPs need to get a better understanding of their patients job and the effect it is having on their health and to relate that to what they put on a fit note. Employers need to understand better that they have a responsibility to their employees to ensure that their work doesn’t make them ill.