How the pandemic has narrowed the generational divide

Rachele Focardi shares 10 facts about the multi-generational workforce in the post-pandemic workplace.
By: | April 29, 2022

As organisations around the world struggle to define what the future of work will look like, understanding the impact of the global pandemic on the multigenerational workforce is critical. The big shift from office to remote working had a tremendous effect on productivity, mental health, team collaboration, relationship with employers, values, and priorities of employees across age-groups.

And in many ways, this shared experience has narrowed the generational divide.  Here are 10 things you need to know to design the ideal post-pandemic Multigenerational Workplace Experience.

1.   Hybrid is the future

During the pandemic, working arrangements have changed for 62% of workers, with more than 51% saying their employer has adopted a hybrid work model.

Gen Z, new to the workforce, is the generation that is most often asked to work exclusively from home and is the least engaged in hybrid work. 64% of employees across generations agree that hybrid work is the ideal future work arrangement, and only 11% desire a return to the office.

As a testament to the fact that COVID-19 had an equalising effect on the multigenerational workforce, baby boomers are now the generation that is most keen on a hybrid work model, while more Gen Z than any other generations wish they could go back to the office.

2.   Satisfaction with employers

Employees are overall happy with the way their employers handled the rapid shift towards remote or hybrid work during the pandemic. Less than 12% across generations disapprove of business response.

Furthermore, adapting to technology and tools for remote working has been easy for most employees, particularly for those born after 1964 (Gen X, millennials, Gen Z). While 23% of baby boomers found it challenging. Technological adaptation was somewhat harder for men (18%) than for women (13%)

3.   Wellness, flexibility, and a growth mindset are no longer “nice-to-haves”

Employees across generations are more conscious than ever about their physical and mental wellbeing. Eating home-cooked meals, replacing the commute with exercise and meditation, and having hobbies is now a priority, particularly for baby boomers.

Most employees have started to re-think their priorities, wanting to align their career to their preferred lifestyle and values. For almost 100% of respondents, flexibility is no longer an option. They do not want to be in the office 5 days a week anymore but want to work remotely from other locations and countries with the freedom to plan their own work schedule.

A growth mindset has become an imperative. Employees across generations realise the importance of being agile, adaptable, and resilient. Baby boomers and Gen X now recognise that knowing how to work smart, master technology and step outside their comfort zone is key, while Millennials and Gen Z feel the need to further enhance their skills to be more employable. 14% want to pursue further education, while those who are more financially vulnerable are ready to embrace the gig economy by having more than one job or a side hustle to ensure financial stability.

4.   The impact of the pandemic on work-life balance and mental health

The impact on work-life balance has been positive for 47% of employees, and negative for 31%. This is relatively consistent among age groups.

When it comes to mental health, 38% of employees report a negative impact, and 32% a positive impact. While this is relatively consistent across generations, Millennials have been most negatively affected (40%); baby boomers the least (34%). Gen X’s mental health has been most positively impacted.  

Gender-wise, more females see an improvement in their mental health since the start of the pandemic than males (35% vs 29%). For many, improved work-life balance – particularly more time with loved ones, more ME time, and more time spent on hobbies – is what contributed positively to their mental health. This is followed by improved efficiency – linked to less time spent commuting and fewer travel expenses.

However, for others, work-life balance deteriorated, particularly because of feelings of isolation, the blurred boundaries between work and home, and the expectation to be reachable beyond work hours, which led to the inability to switch off, more work, burnout, stress, and anxiety.

5.   Personal productivity is on the rise

61% of respondents report greater productivity when working remotely. This is due to the ability to focus more, to spend more time working and less time commuting, and greater flexibility and autonomy. Higher productivity is highest among Gen X (who value independent work more than any other generation) and lowest among Gen Z (who are more team oriented and need more support as they embark on their career).

However, for 20%, personal productivity has decreased, mainly because of less effective communication, distractions at home, lack of motivation, stress, and anxiety.

The older generations, who valued presenteeism, now realise that it is possible to be productive outside the office – and even more, thanks to online tools that allow them to meet team members, clients, and stakeholders without the need to travel. The young generations believe that if the priorities are clear, the 5-day work week can be reduced to 4, resulting in even higher productivity.

6.   Good communication is key to maintaining a strong cultural bond for remote teams

Good communication tools are the most effective way to maintain a strong cultural bond for remote teams, followed by a flexible schedule, regular meetings, and periodic in-person socials. Baby boomers feel strongly about agile practices as a way to make people more connected to the organisation.

Mental health support is strongly influenced by age and progressively increases in importance. It ranks 6th for Baby Boomers, 5th for Gen X, 3rd for millennials, and 2nd for Gen Z.

When asked what employers can do to better support employees amidst all this disruption, greater flexibility is cited by every generation, while baby boomers and Gen X want more IT support, and millennials and Gen Z higher pay, mental health support and care packs.

Mental health training, meditation, more personalised virtual onboarding and collaboration tools, daily 1-on-1 check-ins and greater empathy are also cited as important by every generation.

7.   Team collaboration has become more challenging

72% of respondents believe that remote work has made team collaboration more challenging, and this is more predominant among males than females.

From an intergenerational collaboration perspective, 29% of employees say they have had less opportunities for cross-generational communication and collaboration since the start of the pandemic, and 27% say the quality of intergenerational interactions has deteriorated.

Among all groups, males and baby boomers see greatest improvement in both frequency and quality of interaction with other generations. The figure is significantly lower for the younger generations, particularly Gen Z, who see the least improvement in the quality of communication with older colleagues.

8.   The pandemic had a strong effect on the employee-employer relationship

Although workers are overwhelmingly positive about their employers’ policies to handle remote work during the pandemic, less than 40% are willing to remain with their current employer in their current position. This is surprisingly consistent across generations.

15% want a different employer in the same industry, 12% want to change industry, 12% want to stay with their current employer but with a different career path, 11% want to pursue further education, 10% want to start their own business, and 9% want to take a sabbatical.

Furthermore, 25% of employees across generations say that finding their purpose in life has become a priority, and 13% want to relocate to a new city or country.

9.   Remote work: Pros and cons

The most positive aspects of working remotely according to employees across age-groups are greater autonomy in how to split work/personal time, flexibility to balance personal/family needs, healthier lifestyle (more sleep, home-cooked meals, time for exercise and meditation), less commute, and the newly acquired tech knowledge. The most negative are ‘Zoom fatigue’, blurred lines between work and private life, social isolation, no office hardware support, monotony, and difficulty in monitoring staff.

10.   The pandemic has bridged the generational divide

Generations’ mindsets and behaviours are shaped by what they experienced in their formative years (this includes their debut into the workforce), and because different generations occur at different times, their experiences are never the same. The reason behind the generational divide is misalignment: each individual taking a stereotyped view of other generations, not understanding their lived experience, and lacking knowledge of how to collaborate more effectively.

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What happened with COVID-19 is comparable to Hayley’s Comet. It provided an unprecedented and unexpected scenario, one where every employee, across every generation and every geography, lived the same experience at the same time.” – Rachele Focardi.

What happened with COVID-19 is comparable to Hayley’s Comet. It provided an unprecedented and unexpected scenario, one where every employee, across every generation and every geography, lived the same experience at the same time. I can comfortably say that generations have never been so closely aligned. in fact, not only do they want many of the same things when it comes to the Future of work, but for the first time, the majority (67%) feel that younger and older generations are facing similar challenges and opportunities.

As organisations plan what their post-pandemic workplace experience will be, capitalising on this unique opportunity by ensuring that nobody is left behind will be paramount. This means implementing collaboration practices and tools that help employees across generations shift from siloed experiences to inclusive shared stories and experiences, helping different generations appreciate each other’s sense of purpose, value each other’s diverse characteristics, and become better equipped to collaborate. This will undoubtedly drive positive change and innovation, the extent of which has never been seen!

Click here to find out more about the multigenerational workforce in the post-pandemic workplace.

About the author: Rachele Focardi is a Future of Work Strategist, Founder of XYZ@Work, and Author of the book Reframing Generational Stereotypes. Join her at HR Tech Festival Asia 2022, where her session titled, Future of Work: The Multigenerational Post-Covid Workplace, will take place on Thursday, May 12, from11.45am-12.30pm (SGT).