‘Age warfare’, the new threat to workforce productivity

  2nd July 2013      
 CIPD, Company News, Employment

CIPD Research reveals growing tension between the generations

Employers will have to deal with growing generational tension in the workplace as younger workers believe older colleagues are blocking their career development, research has found.

Dubbing the phenomenon “age warfare”, researchers from KPMG warned that conflict between different age groups will undermine workplace productivity.

According to the study of 1,500 people, from five generations, age warfare at work is rife as employees from different age groups try to develop, or hold on to, their careers.

And resentment towards older employees among young workers is being fuelled further as Baby Boomers and generation X look set to retire later than previous generations, with the number of over 65s in work already over a million.

Nearly half of younger respondents (46 per cent) agreed that older members of staff need to retire so that younger colleagues have a chance of career progression. While a similar proportion felt that a much older workforce would drain productivity.

Survey results suggested that younger workers don’t feel they need to learn from their more experienced colleagues, with only 20 per cent of respondents recognising the value of learning from experienced older workers.

A generational divide is also emerging in terms of attitudes towards work as 58 per cent of generation Y are more likely to be content earning ‘enough’, rather than constantly striving for more. This percentage falls to 48 per cent among Baby Boomers.

“As people remain in the workplace for longer, older workers will inevitably constitute a larger proportion of the workforce. Although this may breed the pernicious perception that the younger generation will lose out, this does not have to be the case”, said  Robert Bolton, partner and co-lead of KPMG’s HR global centre of excellence.

“An older workforce brings a wealth of experience and Baby Boomers can potentially adopt the invaluable role of coach or mentor to those entering the workplace. The companies who succeed will be those who take advantage of what older workers can bring to the table, in a way that is both innovative and inclusive. They will be the ones who can find a way for the Baby Boomers in their workforce to be enablers for the young rather than blockers.”

Dianah Worman, public policy adviser at the CIPD, wrote in a letter to the FT: “The idea that younger people’s careers are being stifled by older workers retiring later perpetuates the lump of labour fallacy. In reality, the labour market operates on a far more complex basis than one of ‘one in one out’.

“While an ageing workforce may give employers cause for concern in terms of how to manage this growing population of older workers and ensure that its skills base doesn’t dry up as soon as they start to retire, young people should not be discouraged. Career progression with organisations is influenced by all sorts of different factors and the kinds of job vacancies younger people are seeking often require different skills sets and levels of experience than those jobs that older people might vacate when they retire.  It simply doesn’t follow that when an old person leaves you can replace them with a young person.”

Warnings of age warfare at work come as further research shows that competition for graduate jobs remains fierce. There are now an average of 46 applicants for each graduate vacancy, according to a study of the 2013 graduate market by High Fliers Research. Competition remains tough despite the number of graduate job vacancies reaching a five-year high, the survey of 100 employers revealed.

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