Three ways to leverage your workplace to help bridge the generation gap

The past thirty years have seen the demise of the expectation of a job for life. We’ve seen traditional career paths of apprenticeship, journeyman and master craftsman largely disappear, not just in the trades but also in professions like engineering and government policy analysis. Waves of redundancies have hollowed out the middle layers of many organisations, leaving incumbents in key roles often lacking the depth of experience needed to make wise decisions. 

Demographic changes are one of the seven forces affecting corporate property decision-making. There are of course many dimensions to this, including increased labour force participation by women and a broader ethnic mix in many organisations than we’ve seen previously. But one of the things that is particularly interesting is the composition of the workforce by age. Traditionally the population pyramid, which is a graphical depiction of the number of people of each age group split by gender, has been fairly, well, pyramidal. That is to say, plenty of younger people and relatively few older folks. 

What’s happening is that it’s starting to become a population rectangle and is generally getting taller as more people live into a ripe old age and family sizes decrease. This link takes you to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ animated population pyramid, where you can see how the shape changes over time.

Throw together the lingering effects of the global financial crisis (GFC) with a bit of “generational studies”, there are some interesting implications for workplace planners:

Baby Boomers have abandoned early retirement dreams – A sad fact of the GFC is that many people have had to defer their retirement plans and remain in or return to the workforce. Many of the so-called baby boomers (people born immediately after WW2, who are now aged up to 70) are seeking part time work to top up their retirement income sources. Notwithstanding the fact that longer life expectancies are forcing people to re-evaluate the level of savings they need at retirement. In some cases people are preferring to continue working at least part time simply to keep themselves physically, mentally and socially active given the expectation of a longer period of retirement. 

Generation X battling to buy into the property market – Generation X (people from their early 30s to late 40s) are in the middle of raising families. Given housing (un)affordability or by choice, many X-ers are in double income families, but often at least one member seeks to work part time to make juggling family commitments a little easier.

Generation Y job-hopping and chasing online start-ups – As Generation Y’s numbers in the workforce continue to swell over the next few years as they complete their education, they will become the dominant age group at work. While noted for their upwardly mobile job hopping ways (unsurprising given they are the first generation to enter a workforce with no notion of job security), we expect that as they hit their thirties they will start to moderate their expectations of their employers as they encumber themselves with children and/or mortgages. Nevertheless, some will continue to pursue multiple jobs: the office job for income to supplement their web business or hobby job until it takes off.

Meanwhile the Millennials, who will be joining the workforce before this decade’s end, are growing up in a world of iGadgets and social media and will be occupying the offices you are fitting out today.

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