A multi-generational workforce – a team of employees from several generations – can bring benefits to a business. This can range from helping address talent challenges to the diversity of new thinking and experienced wisdom. But training and support are key to harnessing these rewards.
Due to our ageing population and potential rises to retirement age in the future, the UK workforce is now more diverse than ever. People over the age of 50 represent 31 percent of employees. This is up from 21 percent in the early 1990s. Retaining older workers can preserve crucial knowledge and skills within organisations.
Challenges of a multi-generational workforce
Different life stages present different challenges in terms of employee health and wellbeing. While not inevitable, an older workforce may present challenges, such as long-term health issues. In fact, health is the biggest single reason why people leave work before they are ready to retire. While younger workers may need time off to have a family. Or, they may have mental or physical health problems that require the appropriate support to help them perform at their best.
Organisations need to consider various health challenges that come with different generations. This will ensure they provide the right support at the right time.
The diversity that a multi-generational workforce brings to a company has a number of benefits. An organisation that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion will help to:
- keep employees happy and motivated
- help to prevent discrimination
- better serve a diverse range of customers
- improve ideas and problem-solving
While older workers bring a lifetime of working experience to a role, younger people can bring a fresh perspective to a challenge. It can help to attract and keep good staff too.
Looking after your multi-generational workforce
There are important things to be aware of for a multi-generational workforce. For example, people will experience different issues at different stages of life. Here is just a selection.
- Mental health
Stress, depression or anxiety accounts for nearly 50 percent of all work-related ill health in the UK. The reasons behind poor mental health can be a layered and complex picture. It can also affect people at all stages of life. Everything from stress at work or money worries to experiencing racism or homophobia at work can have damaging effects on mental health.
Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of young professionals believe poor mental health impacts their ability to do their job well. Yet research shows that most young professionals feel uncomfortable accessing support at work. Reasons include them being concerned that it will have a negative impact on their career.
Without proactive support from employers, employees with much-needed skills and talent may underperform at work and not reach their full potential. And whether work is the cause of a mental health issue or aggravates it, employers have a legal responsibility to help.
- Pregnancy and childcare
Balancing work and childcare can be challenging. In order to retain valuable employees, organisations need to be proactive in supporting them. For example, when having a child there will be different requirements at different stages. During pregnancy, paid time off for antenatal care and risk assessments will be key to ensure the health of an expectant mother and her baby. Later on, with maternity leave and eventual planning for a return to work, organisations need to meet a number of legal requirements.
Caring responsibilities are also a factor for employees. Almost half of the UK workforce combine work with caring responsibilities at any one time, the majority of which is looking after children.
Research shows that caring responsibilities outside of work effects how engaged employees are at work, and their ability to progress. It also has an impact on staff retention, and relationships within teams at work. Recognising employees’ needs outside of work can create healthy and productive workplace cultures.
Employees in management positions should be trained in implementing maternity, paternity and parental leave policies. They should also know how to access further information and guidance.
There are around five million women over 50 in the UK workplace. Many of these women will be going through the menopause. Most women experience symptoms related to the menopause. This can range from hot flushes to difficulties with concentration and memory and mood swings, and impact on their quality of life.
Research has found that only 23 percent of women said that menopause was something they could talk about at work. Yet with the right support, symptoms can be managed well, and women can continue successfully at work. A good place to start is with education to help normalise menopause at work. And from there, simple measures such as good ventilation in the workplace, and access to showers, or comfortable toilet facilities can all help.
- Musculoskeletal issues
Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions affect the joints, bones, joints muscles and spine. They are a common cause of severe long-term pain and physical disability. Some of these conditions become more common with age.
It’s important to tackle MSK issues in the workplace promptly. If they’re ignored, it can make these conditions worse. This in turn can create further complications and have a negative impact on people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Tackling MSK problems early and taking action to prevent issues arising can:
- lead to a healthier workforce
- improve work-related performance
- reduce work absence
It will also enable people to stay in work longer. Research, for example, has shown that people with MSK problems are more likely to retire early.
Hear from our experts
Naomi Humber, Head of Mental Wellbeing at Bupa Health Clinics:
“A range of health and social issues can come to the forefront during different stages of our working lives. During adult life, we are often facing a battle of some form. So, it’s vital that our workplace has the right tools and support in place to help us to navigate and conquer it.
This helps us to stay well and thrive in the face of continuing health changes, life demands and stressors. It will also help to ensure we continue to be productive and perform at our best in the workplace.”
In our latest Workplace Health Insights article, Dr Samantha Wild, Bupa’s Women’s Health Clinical Lead, spotlights menopause in the workplace and how line managers can support and make a real difference.
Bupa has a range of health information to support you and your team, including:
- Age-diverse workforces. CIPD. www.cipd.co.uk, accessed 20 May 2022
- Menopause in the workplace. Business in the Community. www.bitc.org.uk, published 25 March 2020
- Working well? How the pandemic changed work for people with health conditions. Centre for Ageing Better. ageing-better.org.uk, published June 2021
- Health at work. Centre for Ageing Better. ageing-better.org.uk, accessed 24 May 2022
- CIPD, Health and wellbeing at work survey 2021. 2021: London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
- Improving equality, diversity and inclusion in your workplace. Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service. www.acas.org.uk, accessed 9 May 2022
- Shut out. How employers and recruiters are overlooking the talents of over 50s workers. Centre for Ageing Better. ageing-better.org.uk, published January 2021
- Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain 2021. Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, published 16 December 2021
- Anxiety and panic attacks. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, published February 2021
- Time to act: Mental health in early careers. City Mental Health Alliance. citymha.org.uk, accessed 9 May 2022
- Mental health conditions, work and the workplace. Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 9 May 2022
- Maternity, paternity and adoption rights. CIPD. www.cipd.co.uk, published 6 April 2021
- Who cares? CIPD. www.bitc.org.uk, published March 2022
- Equal lives. Parenthood and caring in the workplace. Business in the Community. www.bitc.org.uk, published April 2019
- Menopause. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised March 2022
- The state of musculoskeletal health 2021. Versus Arthritis. www.versusarthritis.org, published 2021
- Guidance. Musculoskeletal health: applying all our health. Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. www.gov.uk, updated 1 March 2022
- Musculoskeletal conditions. World Health Organization. www.who.int, published 8 February 2021
- Gomez IN, Gonzalez-Suarez C, Sosa KE, et al. Work-from-home-related musculoskeletal pain during the covid-19 pandemic: a rapid review protocol. Int J Osteopath Med 2022. doi: 10.1016/j.ijosm.2022.04.005
- Sickness absence in the UK labour market 2021 dataset. Office for National Statistics. www.ons.gov.uk, release date 29 April 2022