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The Workforce Now Spans 5 Generations — How Can You Meet Everyone’s Needs?

Multigenerational workforces have increased productivity and stronger talent pipelines. Here’s how you can make their workplace more equitable, flexible and innovative.

Two female coworkers from different generations chat, part of an intergenerational workforce.
As people increasingly prioritize purpose and wellbeing, it’s imperative that employers respond accordingly. [PeopleImages / Getty]

Is age part of your equation when you think about diversity, equity and inclusion? It should be, especially now with five generations currently in the workplace. Companies need to meet the needs of this intergenerational workforce, and those that do see a positive impact from age diversity and age-friendly workplaces.

According to an AARP survey of corporate executives, 83% reported that a multigenerational workforce was valuable to their organizations’ success and growth. Yet, the same survey revealed that fewer than 6% of employers have put policies in place that enable unbiased recruiting. 

Each of the five generations currently in the workforce — The Silent Generation/Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z — have different lived experiences that shape their perspectives, values and working styles. 

Some are caregivers, some are preparing for retirement or parenthood, and some are new to the workplace. All are essential to helping businesses across the world thrive.

The case for an intergenerational workforce 

In 1958, Bill Bowerman was coaching track and field at the University of Oregon. He was obsessed with optimizing his athletes’ shoes. When Phil Knight, a student and runner on the track team, shared his frustration with the quality of American running shoes, they teamed up to design a better running shoe. They founded a company in 1964 to market a lighter, more comfortable and affordable shoe. Bill was 52 and Phil was 25. 

The company they founded? Nike. 

Aging in the workforce has traditionally been thought of as a cost center, not a value creator. It’s time to flip that frame of mind. Inclusive companies (with a diverse workforce across age, gender, race, sexuality, and ability), posted a 14.4% share-price gain during the 2007-2009 downturn, while the broader stock market declined by 35%, according to an AARP study. After the Great Recession, inclusive companies’ recoveries outperformed the markets by nearly four times, the study found.

Inclusive companies posted a 14.4% share-price gain during the 2007-2009 downturn, while the broader stock market declined by 35%.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international coalition with 38 member states, released research that shows that businesses with multigenerational workforces have:

  • Increased productivity 
  • Stronger talent pipelines
  • Greater diversity of skills and outlook 
  • Better retention of experience and know-how
  • Increased resilience 
  • Better access to multi-skilled teams

The key challenges affecting each generation

A key barrier those over 50 face is age discrimination. Ageism is unfortunately more prevalent than we’d like to think, with nearly 80% of older employees reporting having seen or experienced it in the workplace. The effects go well beyond work. According to the World Health Organization, about 6.3 million cases of depression globally are estimated to be attributable to ageism. 

Older workers aren’t the only ones struggling with mental health. Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2010) is entering the workforce in the midst of a significant reevaluation of how, where, and why we work. They already feel burned out, and are worried about pay, financial stability, and climate change. According to a recent Deloitte survey, 46% of Gen Z and 45% of Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) “feel burned out due to the intensity/demands of their working environments.” In fact, Gen Z and Millennials are driving the Great Resignation, with four in 10 Gen Zers and almost one in four Millennials wanting to leave their jobs within the next two years. 

What about Gen X? Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen X makes up the largest cohort of the “sandwich” generation — those caring for a senior parent while raising at least one child under 18 or financially supporting an adult child, according to Pew. Caregiving on two fronts is taking a toll. The average Gen X caregiver spends 22.6 hours a week caring for others — 42% report being in a care situation with a high burden of care and 25% report high levels of financial stress due to their caregiving responsibilities.

With each generation facing its own growing set of challenges, it’s no wonder that employee loyalty and satisfaction have been in steady decline over the last 20 years.

With each generation facing its own growing set of challenges, it’s no wonder that employee loyalty and satisfaction have been in steady decline over the last 20 years. As people increasingly prioritize purpose and wellbeing, it’s imperative that employers respond accordingly.

The good news? The demand for increased flexibility and autonomy in the workplace provides a unique opportunity for business leaders to put policies and practices into place that can make work more equitable, flexible and innovative. 

Enabling an intergenerational workforce 

Enabling age-diverse teams is good for the entire intergenerational workforce, not just older employees. Here are three areas your company can focus on to increase age diversity, address each generation’s challenges, and stabilize your workforce.  

Recruitment and retention

While 64% of employees have implemented diversity, equity and inclusion policies, only 6% have adopted policies to avoid age discrimination. Work with the talent partners in your organization to set up implicit bias training and ensure that it also accounts for age. 

Consider programs such as phased retirement, which allow for older workers to continue to contribute to the organization while allowing for increased flexibility. 

Returnship programs for those who have been out of the workforce for an extended period help them return with support and learn new skills. The programs also help minimize hiring discrimation they may face due to the gap in their work histories. 

Mentorship and knowledge exchange programs are also great for helping foster connectivity, building a sense of belonging and sharing organizational knowledge.

All of these programs are great tools for building employee loyalty, widening your talent pool, and increasing the diversity of your workforce.

Improve the employee experience 

Employees who feel empowered to speak up and drive change are more likely to report higher levels of job satisfaction. A recent Salesforce study highlights the huge disconnect between the C-Suite and their employees. While 70% of C-suite executives report that their employees are happy, only 44% of employees agree.

This disconnect is contributing to lower employee satisfaction and retention rates.

Managers need to focus on the value each team member creates as opposed to title, seniority or age.

Building trust is foundational to bridging this disconnect. Managers need to focus on the value each team member creates as opposed to title, seniority or age. Also, when possible put together mixed-age workers on projects or teams. Evidence shows that mixed-age teams are more innovative and productive. 

Finally, adopt a mindset that looks beyond age and accounts for life stage. Life is not linear — baby boomers are going back to school, millennials are taking mid-career sabbaticals and Gen Zers are caregivers. Accounting for life stage is a much stronger indicator of how to improve your employees’ experience. 

Make continuous learning the norm

Gone are the days of obtaining a credential and having it remain relevant throughout a given career. 

You might think that Gen Z, the first truly digital-native generation, feels more prepared for the tech skills demanded by today’s jobs. But that isn’t the case. Only 31% of Gen Z feels “very equipped” for a digital-first job, according to Salesforce’s Digital Skills Index. Only 20% of Gen Z believes they have “advanced” digital skills in coding, 18% in data encryption and cybersecurity, and 7% in artificial intelligence.

Workers throughout the intergenerational workforce are also struggling with a skills gap. Around 40% of workers will require reskilling of six months or less, according to research by the World Economic Forum. And 94% of business leaders say they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, up from 65% in 2018. 

Give employees the skills they need by establishing a culture of continuous learning within your organization. Here are some ways Salesforce is helping people of all ages prepare for the Future of Work:

  • The Trailblazer Community is a network of 15 million people across the Salesforce ecosystem who help each other learn new skills and succeed with Salesforce. The community offers an online platform to connect from anywhere, with more than 1,300 active regional and interest-based groups around the world. 
  • Trailhead, Salesforce’s free online learning platform, has empowered 3.9 million people to learn in-demand skills for the future of work. With Trailhead, learners can skill up for free from anywhere and earn globally recognized credentials for careers in the Salesforce ecosystem. 
  • Pathfinder Training Program is a workforce development initiative designed to train individuals with the technical, business, and soft skills necessary to pursue a career in the Salesforce ecosystem. 
  • Salesforce Military offers free, online training classes and certification exams at no cost for active-duty military, veterans, and military spouses. The program connects a talented pipeline with partner companies to help grow, strengthen, and diversify an intergenerational workforce.
  • The Salesforce Talent Alliance connects Salesforce partner companies to job candidates trained on Salesforce through Trailhead and brings new talent into the fast-growing ecosystem.
  • Tableau Academic provides free software licenses, eLearning, and curriculum to help educators around the world teach analytics in classrooms. Since 2011, Tableau Academic programs have enabled nearly 2 million students and teachers from accredited institutions around the world.
  • Tableau has committed to train 10 Million Data People in data skills over the next five years through new and expanded learning programs, including a $5 million commitment from Tableau Foundation to support organizations that help women and girls learn data skills.
  • The Tableau Community is a safe, open and supportive environment that encourages data lovers to share, learn, and inspire each other. The Community accelerates analytics and Tableau learning for newbies and experienced users alike.

Fatima Sy leads the development of thought leadership and digital strategy for engaging executives. She has a background in mission-driven work, having developed strategy, content and campaigns at a social impact agency prior to joining Salesforce. She’s a big believer in the power of narrative and focuses on helping executives lead with more empathy, intention and creativity.

More by Fatima

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