Manageable Guides

Expert views on topics relevant to all leaders and teams.

Dr Eliza Filby is a writer, speaker and researcher who specialises in what she calls 'Generational Intelligence', helping organisations understand generational shifts within politics, society and the workplace. Her writing has been published in The Times, The Mail Spectator, Guardian and the Financial Times. She published her first book 'God and Mrs Thatcher' in 2014 and is currently writing about ageing in the 21st century.

I'm Dr. Eliza Filby, and I'm a generations expert and historian of contemporary values. This is my Manageable Guide to multigenerational teams. So I've worked with all sorts of organisations across different sectors, helping them address the generation gap in their office. From Buckingham Palace, where they have five different generations within the royal household, I've worked with Warner Brothers looking at the way in which Harry Potter is being transferred from parents to their kids. I've also worked with investment companies interested in the intergenerational transfer of wealth.

Okay, so first up, we have the baby boomers, born between 1943 and 1964. These were the postwar babies that were the benefactors of the kind of postwar settlement, free education, free healthcare, and also the benefactors of the 1980s boom. They are still in the workplace and not going anywhere soon.

Next up, we have Gen X born between 1965 and 1980. They're the forgotten generation. No one really talks about Generation X because there's fewer of them than there are of the baby boomers. But three things really are crucial to understanding Gen X. The first is they were the generation that saw the rise of professional women and the mass entry of women into the professionalized workplace. And the transition to technology and personalized technology wasn't the millennials, it was Gen X's who were the Crackberry adults, and indeed the first ones to use the internet within the working environment.

Next up, we have millennials, they came of age at a time when the smartphone was developed. And what that did was create a fluidity between work and play. They entered the workplace at a time of the financial crisis, and indeed their wages, their opportunities, and indeed, their aspirations have been stunted as a result. Next up, we have Gen Z. These are true 21st century kids, who have had a smartphone in their pocket since the age of 13, have been building their brand, and their networks since their early teens. They came of age at a time of political turmoil, Brexit, Trump, the rise of populism, the rise of Asia, and indeed that kind of global graduate competition that has intensified and really destabilised their career choices.

As a manager, you may not have given that much thought to generational diversity in your company, or even the generation gap. But you will no doubt have experience or evidence of it. Whether it's the Gen Z-er, who perhaps has higher expectations of communication, or the baby boomer that expects formal types of engagement. Or it's the millennial who's rejecting the annual review, or the retirement package within your company. Each different generation will have very different understandings because of the time and place in which they've lived. Bringing the different generations together and helping them understand each other is crucial to bridging that generation gap. It's about understanding where they've come from, their experiences and their aspirations, and what I call generational intelligence. Open up your communication channels, whether you're in your 20s or your 60s, you have learned over the course of the last 10 years through social media culture that your voice is really important, and everyone has a right to be heard. But what that's also done, I think, is made us all really bad at listening to each other. And so you want to create a culture within your company and within your team that allows for a democratic and open flow of communication in which all generations feel heard, all generations feel confident that their voice is listened to. That will go a long way to ensure that all generations feel valued and have the capacity to be heard.

We are entering a really new phase of working life and I'm not talking about Zoom working, I'm talking about the infiltration of AI. Workers are going to have to be flexible, workers are going to have to outsmart AI and workers are going to have to learn and adapt accordingly. So you need to bring in policies, aides and support that not only help the younger generations, but the older generations as well. And the most important and easy way that you can do that is to invest in a learning and development programme that not only encompasses and incorporates the younger generations, but the older generations, too. One of the things that I worked with a client on was a skill swap across the generations, where the baby boomers were helping the Gen Z-ers learn how to engage with clients, learn how to really communicate with them face to face, and particularly over the phone. And in turn, the Gen Z-ers helped baby boomers learn about technology, becoming ambassadors for the company on social media. In a very practical way, you got that bridging of the generational divide. Both generations were not only upskilling, but were feeling a greater sense of investment and commitment to what the company was doing.

If as a manager, you really commit to bringing all the generations together, creating empathy across the ages, you have the prospect of really bringing out the best in all of your employees. I think sometimes when we talk about generations, and we talk about age, we fetishise around youth, and we pander to what the younger generations want. And I think often what happens is the older generations feel ostracised and out of touch and disconnected from the change within the company. Your job as a manager and indeed, your chief challenge as a leader is to ensure that that does not happen, that you don't have older generations feeling ostracised, but equally, you don't want younger generations feeling stifled. I'm Dr. Eliza Filby, and this is my Manageable Guide to multigenerational teams.