When The Who released ‘My Generation’ in 1965 (bear with me Millenials!) little would they realise a new generation of employees (Generation X) was just being born.

I’m part of that Generation X – a group perhaps defined as being motivated by flexibility, family and lifestyle benefits that provide a better work/life balance, and opportunities for professional development that enhance our versatility in an employment marketplace less secure than that enjoyed by our parents.

Employers now face the challenge of managing five different generations represented in the workforce, trying to unite individuals across a range of demographics:

  • Veterans (or Traditionalists) born 1939 – 1947*
  • Baby Boomers 1948 – 1963
  • Generation X 1964 – 1978
  • Generation Y (or Millenials) 1979 – 1999
  • Generation Z (or iGen) 2000 onwards

*CIPD June 2015: “Developing the Next Generation”

This isn’t an academic paper. The key point is that finding, hiring, developing and holding onto talented people is what gives employers an edge on the competition. If we can’t connect with, motivate and fulfil the potential of our staff, from all five generations, then we’re leaving potential performance untapped.

Of course, making assumptions about everyone born between any two dates is dangerous. Diversity within each generation means that an organisation’s ability to understand the specific needs, skills and motivators of every individual is critical, alongside an understanding of generational trends. People Management recently reported on facilities management company Servest who don’t look to define workers by demographic, but by ‘psychographic’ – by an understanding of their individual working styles and preferences.

We simply can’t afford to stereotype any individual. But, what are some of the key generational issues for HR to consider?

‘Digital Natives’

How do you get the best from young people who have grown up using digital technology, almost from birth? Can you engage them in stress-testing new digital technologies before roll-out? Royal Mail refer to using the “hive mind” to connect colleagues who can answer technical questions without the need for (and cost of) formal learning. Estee Lauder have used ‘reverse mentoring’ to share learning about using social media for example. Can you learn more about on-line consumer habits, to gain a competitive edge?

Engagement & Retention

2015 research by Oracle said that 79% of millennials said they would like more discussions on their career path. Honore and Paine Schofield (2012) found that 57% of millennials expect to leave their organisation in next 2 years, so there are big challenges here for HR.

Characteristics of Generation Y include expecting an opportunity to have a voice (and be listened to), to express creativity, and always being connected. HR can help by providing access to collaboration platforms and social tools; establishing groups that bring talent together to capture new thinking and ideas; and giving staff the tools to network and the means to learn from peers.


A desire for flexibility isn’t new, but continues to grow in Generations Y and Z, for both women and men. There is a generation of young men who play a bigger part than before in raising children and caring for other family members. HR must play a key role in changing culture in order to attract and keep the best talent – more people expect to be able to (and be trusted to) ‘work smart’ and not be fixed to a set workplace or hours.

Unsurprisingly, many leadership teams or Boards will be made up of Baby Boomers, and some Generation X. Is your business making best use of younger talent by progressing them to influential positions quickly enough?


The use of technology in learning has moved on significantly in the last decade. In 2015 the CIPD identified increased preferences for technology based learning; for getting personal feedback through the learning process; and that the expectations of the ‘user experience’ of training technology from ‘digital natives’ are heightened.

But it is clumsy to assume that all young people just want on-line learning, and don’t value learning from doing, or from working collaboratively with others. Every individual, whatever the age, still has learning preferences that need to be considered.

HR must gain a full appreciation of learner views and preferences across the organisation (and act on feedback about how successful current methods are).

And what about re-training or apprenticeships for older workers? In the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017 the Government has said funding will be granted ‘regardless of the age of the learner’. How will you tap into this to secure skills needed in your business?

Making a Difference

Some of the research about Generation Y & Z refers to the drive to make a difference in the world, ethics and authenticity. Corporate Social Responsibility programmes and leadership need to be authentic; new recruits will expect the culture of the business to demonstrate a genuine purpose. To quote Cliff Oswick, Professor of Organisation Theory and Deputy Dean at Cass Business School (2014) “When employers interview the most talented individuals from gen Z, the people that top companies compete for, they ask different questions. Some of the banks and professional services firms that work in the city of London tell me that these candidates don’t ask about salaries or company cars, they ask: ‘how many women are in senior positions?’ and ‘what’s your policy on sustainability?’. They are really marching to a different drum.”


It’s really interesting to think how these changing attitudes will shape the businesses of the future. Of course, there may be times when you need the specialist skills and knowledge of an HR expert to navigate changes and avoid legal pitfalls. At Stephens Scown, we can provide a qualified HR professional to help you with issues like these. We can provide access to an HR officer from time to time without the cost, hassle or commitment of recruiting one; we can provide part-time and/or fixed term secondments to deal with the issues arising from generation projects like CSR, recruitment or change for example. If you would like to discuss this article, or any HR issue, do get in touch on 01872 265100 or employment@stephens-scown.co.uk  

We speak from our own experience. Stephens Scown has been ranked number 12 in the influential Sunday Times list of the top 100 mid-sized firms to work for – and won an award for most improved company, as well as being the highest ranked law firm nationally on the list. The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work for is an annual survey and 2016 marks its 16th year. Designed to recognise the well-being and motivation of employees, the survey is widely acknowledged as the most searching and comprehensive research into employee engagement in the UK and the results depend entirely on the opinion of employees.