Although generational stereotypes have been used to make sense of society’s attributes and ideals for decades, an over-reliance on them in today’s data-led age will lead to wasted talent and discriminatory decision making.
Ageism and its out-dated presumptions are still rife in the workplace today. Almost three-quarters of UK workers feel age discrimination is common, with both the youngest and oldest feeling the most aggrieved. The same research, commissioned by job-listing site CV-Library, also revealed that 20% of those who were discriminated against for their age were told they would be ‘too stuck in their own ways’ and that three quarters of 25-to-34 year olds had been discriminated against for being ‘too young’. A separate study by Capita Resourcing found that the majority of employees over 50 felt some form of bias against them in the workplace.
It is because of this, that the arrival of Perennials to the workplace lexicon has proved so refreshing; it fosters new thinking. Perennials is the word used to describe people who, irrespective of age, choose to stay relevant to the world around them. They keep pace with new technologies, have multiple-age friendships, relish collaboration and communication, have an appetite for learning, strive to achieve and are adept at change.
However, identifying Perennials is not just about giving productive and committed employees a label – it’s also the start of a conscious and collective discussion about the limitations of stereotypes in the workplace and how the same age does not equal the same interests, values or aspirations. Use Amazon as an example. Its algorithm doesn’t tell you what other people your age bought; it tells you what other people with the same shared interest went on to buy. As such, the Perennial era is defined by interests, behaviours and values, not age or generational stereotypes.
The opportunity is clear.
Employers must start taking the time to better understand the needs of their employees and how work is done within their organisations, by collecting and studying qualitative and quantitative behavioural data. These evidence-based insights into interests, behaviours and values will provide an important foundation on which a commercially successful and highly efficient people-centric organisation can be built.
We must place our collective emphasis on identifying, harnessing and encouraging the positive attributes and similarities that make-up the very best employees in the workplace. There should be a celebration of the diversity of generations in work, rather than a division, and recognition that those with the right skills, aptitude and attitude have permanent value, irrespective of age. We are talking about relevance – something that is governed by mind-set, aptitude and willingness to engage with change – and is the quality that defines Perennials best of all. As Perennial term founder Gina Pell said: “It’s time we rewire our collective Pavlovian response… and find the overlap between all ages”.
It is the organisations that shine the light on positive similarities across generations that will create rich, age-diverse, highly-skilled and productive workforces, capable of competing in the most challenging economic conditions. Misplaced and ill-informed generational stereotypes have no place in a data-rich world. It is meaningful insights into employees and their behaviours that will help to fulfil their potential and nurture the agile, attuned, well-equipped and focused workforce of tomorrow.