Planning for the ‘multi-experiential’ workforce

Today’s employers have a unique opportunity to solidify and ‘future proof’ their workforces by embracing five generations of talent.

Is it just me, or do we think of the workforce today as being “younger”?  The tech industry, we’re told, tends to skew a little younger than most other industries. And tech is ubiquitous. Even banks consider themselves tech companies. Millennials are also the primary recruitment target of most companies today.

While they may be the primary target, the fact is that, as in countries such as South Korea and Japan, the U.S. workforce is graying. The percentage of employees 55 and over grew by a third between 2006 and 2016.

Meet the Perennials

In 1996, long before social media and when some of us were still learning about the Internet, 31.6 percent of the workforce was over 44 years of age. By 2026, that number is expected to increase to 44 percent. While still a much smaller percentage than the younger 16-44 aged workforce in the U.S., labor participation by adults over 44 years of age is growing faster than any other demographic. The reasons? More older workers are delaying retirement payouts, want to hold on to healthcare benefits, or just want to work longer.  

Here's the good news: whether by luck or judgment, multigenerational workplaces make a whole lot of sense. We happen to be lucky enough to live in an era where five generational demographics are active in the workplace: traditionalists (born pre-1946), Baby Boomers (1946-64), Gen X (1965-76), Millennials (aka Gen Y, 1977-97) and Gen Z (born post 1997).

This creates the potential for a tremendous amount of age diversity in the workplace, but it also brings a tremendous diversity of experience and that is far more valuable to employers. That’s why I like to call today’s workforce the multiexperiential workforce, rather than multigenerational. This is good because different generations bring different skills, life experience and perspectives to the workplace. Think about it as an employer. If you want innovation, new ideas and disruption, tempered by pragmatism and workplace experience, what could be better than to have five generations of talent in the same workplace? Experts agree that productivity and performance can benefit.

Earn and return

Workforce development and employee engagement also have benefits. Having generations with varying experiences can deliver what experts like Donna Morris, chief human resource officer and EVP, employee experience at Adobe, call an ‘earn and return’ dividend. This is much more than mentoring and isn’t as structured. ‘Earn and return’ is as much about generational and cultural exchange as it is about workplace development. And, as companies like Medallia - which has built a successful cloud-based SaaS business around customer and employee engagement - can testify, to “win in the marketplace, you must win in the workplace.”  Tapping into wisdom of employees of all ages can create better workplace experiences for all.

There are also some surprising bridges between the five generations working today. While your average Perennial might not know the difference between Doja Cat and Normani, it seems that Gen Z can’t get enough of their parents’, and even grandparents’ music.

Music in the workplace can be a great uniter and generations often have more in common musically then they like to admit. How many of your Gen Z colleagues know that Selena Gomez’ 2017 hit ‘Bad Liar’ was informed by Tina Weymouth’s bass line from the Talking Heads’ 1977 hit ‘Psycho Killer’?

But even when generations want their own space and tunes, systems like Sonos, which can create separate listening zones, can keep the whole workplace happy. Such office harmony wasn’t so accessible to the ‘jukebox generation’ or even those of us of the MTV era.

Opening up

The concept of ‘zones’ within the modern office is more friendly to the multiexperiential workforce, but zonal offices can sometimes confound Millennials and Perennials alike. After all, when a worker had their “corner office” they knew exactly where to go. Open floor offices with areas for collaboration, ‘scrums’ and team-building as well as more private workspaces, only really work when good signage and comprehensive floor plans ensure today’s ‘roving’ workforce doesn’t get delayed, or lost. Yet, these zonal offices also open the door to formal as well as ad-hoc mentoring, much more so than in traditional office environments, which can be sterile and anonymous, or even true ‘open-plan’ offices which can be noisy and obtrusive.

By tempering collaborative space with small meeting rooms, quiet pods and more intimate individual spaces, employers can also address the needs of individual workers and ‘self-starters’. However, it’s hard to believe that even older workers prefer the claustrophobic, dropped ceilings and artificial light of “traditional” offices over the spacious, natural light-filled workspaces seen in tech and business campuses around the country.

Today’s employers have a unique opportunity to solidify and ‘future proof’ their workforces by embracing five generations of talent and the fact is that it doesn’t take much to accommodate all parties. While most Perennials might not want to climb the office rock wall or play ping pong to relax, more are leaning toward exactly the kind of experiential workplace favored by their younger peers. So, maybe a rooftop park or a beehive might actually bring the generations together more effectively?