You probably need to be a certain age to spot the Pete Townsend reference, and if you are and you did, you’re probably fretting about that intrusive, gentrifying letter ‘a’. I am too. Blame spell check.
As someone who witnessed the introduction of the word processor into the workplace, the demise of the typing pool and the awesome, planet shrinking impact of the fax machine, I’ve long accepted that technology advances in dog years, seven for every one of mine.And mine are going quick enough. I can stream Tommy anywhere I want now, instead of needing a bendy circle of plastic and a set of boxes all connected by bits of different coloured cable. At least the music doesn’t jump when I do, so that’s something.
This rapid and accelerating pace of change has had and unexpected outcome for society. A dramatic telescoping of culture and ageing which has democratised fashion, tech, and many of our values and views across the generations. In the workplace this has changed the shape of the traditional career trajectory, adding for those who want it an extended coda; maybe it should be called the Yoda Coda as implicit in the value of the older generation in the workplace is access to accumulated wisdom that remains relevant. As simple work processes are likely to be carried out by robots, the focus will be on this kind of rich experience, coupled with business skills, creativity and innovation.
An emerging theme for the future workplace will be greater diversity. In this context, age is just another measure of diversity. The proportion of 65+ employees has doubled since 2006 and is expected to rise significantly as the baby boomers reach the third age and can take advantage of the flexible working patterns increasingly available. Longevity is an opportunity for employers to take advantage of talented employees willing to extend their working lives. Given the cost of recruitment this seems an obvious strategy, so businesses if they want to take advantage of this reserve of talent will need to become age blind, and accommodate team cultures embracing as many as five generations. Interestingly, achieving a coherent cultural mix may be easier that it might first appear. The baby boomer’s radical idealism which did so much to shape today’s world, looks a whole lot like the Millennial cohort’s distrust of the establishment and focus on shared purpose and community.
Recent research about workplace design highlights a clear alignment between the needs of older and younger employees. Quiet space, natural light, collaboration space and a variety of work settings are all common themes. What is clear is that inclusive design for a multi-generational workforce will exert a much higher priority in all workplaces in the future.