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Keeping a five-generation workforce happy in uncertain times

Generation Z are the latest group to join a workforce that is becoming more and more diverse. With home working becoming the new norm, we explore ways that all generations have had to adapt in an ever-changing world.

In fact, today’s workforce is having to expand to accommodate five generations of workers (see below) each with their own set of needs, motivations and aspirations. So, how do you create a digital workspace that meets the differing demands of each generation in order to attract and retain the right talent?

Where do you fit in?
The total spread of generations in the workforce is widening as people are starting work younger, living longer and continuing to work well into their later years. While you may not be typical of people your age, there are generally considered to be five generations living and working in our society.[1]
Traditionalists – over 70 – who have a settled approach to work, with a lot of knowledge to pass on.
Baby Boomers – aged 55-69 – competitive and with a strong work ethic, they are good role models for younger generations.
Generation X – aged from 39-54 – believe respect has to be earned. IT literate and independent they often challenge the status quo.
Generation Y also known as Millennials – aged from 23-38 – are focused on self-improvement. Typically, they have strong social consciences and have taken over from Generation X as the biggest group in the workforce.
Generation Z or digital natives – are aged 22 and under – have grown up on a diet of social and digital media, so technology is intuitive for them.
[1] Approximate values derived from survey conducted by Pew Research Center


It’s important Ann Pickering, prior Chief HR Officer and Chief of Staff at O2 said, to understand how each generation decides to work in ways that suit them.

For instance, half of Generation Z say they can’t live without YouTube.

Then there’s the question of how you communicate across the generations when you have younger people like an intern, quoted by Ann, who said that he didn’t use email, he just tweeted.

What motivates people at work also varies with age. Young people, in particular, said Ann, may be interested more in your company’s social purpose over profit, while others are looking for flexibility and choice.

Making work something that you do rather than where you go, means having the right tools that everyone can use easily and intuitively.

What has proved to be an absolute game changer for O2, believes Ann, was the introduction of Workplace two years ago, which is effectively ‘Facebook at work’.

“It has totally changed the way we communicate with each other and with our workforce.”

For example, the social platform allows CEO Mark Evans to get a message or video out to thousands of employees in a matter of seconds. It’s not just company results, the HR team ran a live well-being stream about staying happy, healthy and productive during extraordinary times, which was seen by over 1,000 employees, and is another way that O2 has supported its staff using digital tools.

It could also simply be a mention that he’s just been to see his child in a school play. Such openness is great for showing other colleagues that yes, it’s alright for them to do the same.

Social tools also embrace O2’s diversity and inclusivity, allowing people to share their own stories in a workforce that’s as vibrant and different as the 34.5 million customers they serve.

For Mental Health Awareness Week, some employees posted about their challenges and how their colleagues could support them.

For National Inclusion Week there was an internal social campaign that included the hashtag #Thisisme, where people could celebrate what makes them special.

It’s through this sharing that such social tools really pay off in “phenomenal levels of employee engagement”, as Ann highlighted for O2:

  • As of November 2019, 86% of O2 people were active in a Workplace group
  • There are over 300 active groups, and any employee can set one up
  • In a 24-hour period there had been 2,500 users

While having the right tools aids efficiency and productivity, they are just enablers. Ann passionately believes that “technology is only as powerful as your culture”.

To create a digital workplace takes more than a mobile solution. It is a business change programme, using technology to make things easier – whether it’s on boarding new starters with ready-to-use kit, or introducing family-friendly policies that create a sense of community and a can-do, will-do culture.

Now, more than ever tools like Microsoft 365 and Box are connecting people and allowing us to get on with our daily work lives, that is fast becoming the ‘new norm’.

It’s this shift in business culture that’s ultimately what will attract people to your organisation and unite them in a common interest, whether they are a traditionalist, baby boomer or from Generation X,Y or Z.


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