Office dynamics of an intergenerational workplace

| September 24, 2014

‘Wisdom Workers’ offer businesses a unique approach and commitment. Heidi Holmes explains the benefits of hiring experienced 45 to 65 year olds.

For the first time in history, four different generations could now find themselves working together.

As we experience better health and a higher cost of living, many older workers find themselves continuing in the workforce past what was once considered the traditional retirement age.

Over the past decade, the Gen Y worker has definitely been the flavour of the month, with many employers having a preference to hire these educated, tech savvy and ambitious workers. Often this has been at the expense of older workers who are instead viewed as expensive, out of touch and difficult to work with.

We all know stereotypes are often inaccurate and this certainly holds true for the older worker. One of the biggest things potentially feeding this negative stereotype is in fact calling them older workers. From this point on I will refer to experienced 45 to 65 year olds as ‘Wisdom Workers’ and hopefully you will consider hiring one by the time you’ve finished reading this blog!

However, I’m not just sharing why you should consider Wisdom Workers as part of your retention and recruitment strategy, but I want you to also consider how you can create a cohesive and productive workplace culture by harnessing the benefits which come from both age and youth.

Different approach to work

Of course it can only be expected that different generations have a different approach to work. However employers need really only be concerned with the output, not necessarily the methodology in getting there.

Through the benefit of hindsight, Wisdom Workers are able to draw upon the years of work and life experience to deliver a methodical and well thought out response to a problem. While it may take them a bit longer to deliver the solution, you can be sure they are also making a decision in the best interests of the employer and also potentially the customer.

However, it is also important to have a workplace culture where ideas are encouraged to be shared and sometimes the unbridled thinking of a younger worker can generate some creative and innovative initiatives.

What is important for the employer or team leader to achieve is an environment where both generations are not only aware but also respectful of their colleagues’ different approach to problem solving.

It’s obvious to see the benefits here in a scenario where a creative idea is generated but the final polish can be added by the wisdom worker.

Gen Y + Gen X + Gen WW = Productive Outcomes

Acknowledging different priorities/motivations

A recent study by Ernst & Young into the motivations relating to work across different age groups found those over the age of 50 are more likely to be motivated by the actual work they do rather than financial incentives or offers of work/life balance. However these were the very drivers that were more important to the younger worker. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be motivated by financial gain, however this does challenge the negative stereotype that mature workers are more expensive and that they have unrealistic financial expectations. It appears in fact the majority of Wisdom Workers are just grateful to have a job and given the high value placed on job security, will be highly motivated to perform that job to the best of their ability.

If you are 55 and faced with an average length of unemployment of 73 weeks, you can see how motivations quickly move from financial incentives to being a productive worker!

Younger employees may also look to other incentives/perks in the workplace which are of little interest to Wisdom Workers such as a social club, break out space and access to social media.

However, Wisdom Workers can also be enticed with non-monetary rewards such as offering workplace flexibility. One such program we have seen to retain valuable wisdom workers is grand parental leave. This could simply mean being able to leave work at 3.00pm on a Wednesday and Friday to pick the grandkids up from school.

SMEs are often in a better place to be able to offer such initiatives due to having more direct and open relationships with their employees and can use this to their advantage when competing with big business to retain their best and brightest people.

Embracing an intergenerational approach

The generational warfare has been done to death. Everyone is always looking to pit the different generations against each other. However, the truth remains that regardless of our generational classification we are all connected through work, friends or family. We all know someone from each generation who we admire, trust and respect so there is no reason why this mutual respect shouldn’t be transferred across to the workforce.

I believe it is Big Business which has largely driven this wedge between generations as they believe it is easier to recruit for workplace dynamics, rather than create it themselves. They often achieve this by hiring the same type of individual merely playing lip service to their so called diversity strategy!

SMEs can’t hide behind an array of workplace promises and offers so are naturally drawn and open to new strategies to keep their dedicated workers happy and productive. As Australia’s largest employer, SMEs are often underestimated and their influence ignored when it comes to the impact they can have on our communities of long term unemployed and disengaged workers.

Through conversations we have at Adage with our SME clients, we know we are already preaching to the converted. Wisdom Workers present as attractive employees as they are often multi-skilled, open to doing tasks outside their job description and reward their employer with many years of dedicated service – all attributes highly valued by the SME employer.

Employers just need to make sure they are creating a workplace environment where everyone recognises the value each employee brings to the organisation, regardless of age.

Heidi Holmes is the Managing Director of, a mature age job search site and online community for jobseekers aged 45-plus. If you would like to find out more about the benefits of mature workers please contact Heidi directly at