Work-life balance from the perspectives of different generations

Work-life balance seems to be an easy concept, right? But it´s the same as if you ask different people to imagine a horse. One can picture a white wild Arabian, but the other can think of a brown working horse. The concept of work-life balance is heavily influenced by the generation you belong to. Let´s have a look at how different generations view this concept. 

Baby Boomers:  

Baby Boomers are very hard-working, loyal to their employers and often labelled as workaholics. They grew up listening to the horror stories of the Great Depression and War, so they cherish the opportunity to work, as it brings stability. The work-life balance isn´t something they consider an important thing. However, they can start attributing the meaning to it in the period of retirement or if they need to take care of their elderly parents.  

Gen X: 

Gen Xers are the children of the Boomers, meaning they saw their parents working long hours. They were often home alone after school, until the parents came back home from work, forming the so-called Latchkey kids. That´s why they value work balance more than their predecessors. For them it means having balanced time to be able to be there for their children, to go on family vacations, or to sometime work from home, when needed.  

Millennials:  

Millennials truly made the concept of work-life balance famous. As they grew up with technology, they can, and will use it to make their work smarter and simpler. They even want work-life integration, which means blurring the lines between work and personal time. It can have a form of working from home, wearing casual instead of formal clothes, flexible schedule and having the freedom to choose what they want to work on.  

Gen Z: 

The generation that “wants it all”. Even though they are just entering the workforce, we can see some patterns already. They witnessed the burn-out syndrome, lack of free time and economic insecurities in the generations before them. What´s more, they emphasize the importance of environmental responsibility, and the values of the company must be in line with their values, otherwise, they will quickly move on. As for the work-life balance, they are much like Millennials. They prefer to have flexibility when it comes to working hours and the workplace.   

How can we use this information? As we showed, different generations value different forms of work-life balance arrangements. You cannot please everyone, but the key to harvesting its benefits lies in communication. By talking to the employee’s different tailored approaches to the work-life balance can be made, that will truly serve the needs of the employees.  

The opinions of the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Consortium.  

Source: freepik.com, photo by master1305

Intergenerational communication: a bridge between differences

Nowadays, thanks to technological progress and longer life expectancy, it can be said that at least four generations have the opportunity to work together in the same labour market. However, every single generation is distinct, with its own peculiar features. In particular, specific needs, experiences, social and cultural habits, and daily activities may vary from one generation to another, shaping the way of behaving and communicating among different people. Therefore, from Baby Boomers to Generation Z, discrepancies related to the linguistic and communicative tools are likely to generate additional points of divergence that often represent the main obstacles to efficient cooperation and effective dialogue in intergenerational workplaces. In this way, given the fact that each generation speaks with its own language, it is necessary for all people to understand and learn the best common language for communicating and relating to each other.

Following this line of thought, which are the different communication styles of each single generation?

  • Baby Boomers (people born between 1946-1964):

Most Baby Boomers prefer to use the telephone or talk in person. Therefore, although some of them use online communication tools, several studies have shown that the best way to communicate with them at work is face-to-face conversation.

  • Generation X (people born between 1965-1980):

Members of this generation were early adopters of email and other digital communication tools. According to a study conducted by Getting Smart, members of this generation prefer to use short messages and, due to their ability to employ some technological communication devices, they are seen as the bridge to close the gap between Millennials or Generation Z and older workers, such as Baby Boomers.

  • Millennials (people born between 1981-1996):

Most Millennials are digital native and are used to communicating with others through their smartphones. In terms of the workplace, research conducted by the consulting firm Korn Ferry, highlighted that Millennials prefer online conversations to face-to-face interactions. Consequently, it can be argued that the best way to communicate with Millennial workers is through digital tools, using phones or computers.

  • Generation Z (people born from 1997 on):

Members of Generation Z spend most of their daily life in front of a screen. They prefer fast communication and expect to receive answers as quickly as possible. Surprisingly, it is worth noting that at work, Generation Z prefers face-to-face communication instead.

Well aware that each generation has its own communication approach, attention to inclusive communication and diversity is therefore one of the main steps to be taken in order to develop positive intergenerational relations between employees and managers in companies.

With the aim of bridging the gap between different communication styles and positive and effective dialogue between generations, here are three main tips that could be helpful in finding a shared intergeneration language:

  • Try to adapt: since each generation has its own communication preferences, it should be useful to modify one’s style according to the audience, bearing in mind the communication preferences of each generation category.
  • Individualize: Despite the fact that every generation has common characteristics, it is always important to focus on individual needs and perspectives that may change from everyone’s experience.
  • Mix generations: One of the most effective ways to implement intergenerational communication is to create strategic opportunities, e.g. through team building activities, in which members of different generations can actively collaborate and exchange different working methods.

Finally, it can be argued that recognising the communication style of each employee or manager is important in order to develop a holistic approach that can reach the heterogeneous workforce and, at the same time, individual ways of communicating. Only then can inclusive communication be implemented and the workplace will gain in cohesion and productivity. So… why not try?

SOURCES:

How to Communicate With a Multigenerational Workforce (businessnewsdaily.com)

The Evolution of Communication from Boomers to Gen Z | NDMU

Woman in front of laptop

New work arrangements – a question of age?

The contact restrictions were a successful measure to combat the COVID 19 pandemic. Thus, within a short time, the private home became the new work environment for many employees in Europe. In many countries, employers were obliged by law to enable and support telework or mobile work from home.

Eurofound defines telework as a “work arrangement in which work is performed outside a default place of work, normally the employer’s premises, by means of information and communication technologies (ICT). […] Mobile work could be considered a variation of telework.” (Eurofound, 2022)

Some facts:

  • “In 2020, 12% of employed people aged 20-64 in the EU usually worked from home, while this share had remained constant at around 5 or 6% over the past decade.” (Eurostat 2021)
  • “Until the outbreak of the pandemic, telework had mostly been used by high-skilled workers who do most of their work on computers, enjoy high degrees of autonomy, and are employed in knowledge-intensive activities. […] Beyond the nature of their work, high rates of teleworking before the pandemic among some professionals may also reflect the extent to which they performed informal overtime work at home” (European Commission, Science for Policy Briefs, 2020)
  • “At EU level, the share of employed people who usually or sometimes[1] work from home greatly increased from 14.6 % to 24.4 % between 2019 and 2021” (Eurostat 2022a)
  • “In 2021, employed people with a high education level are more likely to (sometimes or usually) work from home (43.9 % of people working from home) than employed people with a low (6.4 %) or medium level of education (14.7 %). Women with a low or a medium level of education were more likely to (usually or sometimes) work from home than their male counterparts. The EU Member States show very disparate situations among employed people working from home. In the Netherlands, Sweden and Luxembourg, more than 45 % of employed people (usually or sometimes) worked from home in 2021, while less than 10 % did so in Bulgaria and Romania.” (Eurostat 2022b)
  • It is more vulnerable groups of the workforce, including those with low skills, as well as those lacking digital skills – who are more likely to lose their jobs due to the impact of the pandemic (EU-Digital Skills and Jobs Platform, 2021)

Obviously, the job profile and basic digital skills need to be in place in order to work from home. Men and women use mobile working at different levels. Furthermore, differences can be identified between European countries. But wouldn’t one actually also expect the scientific evaluations to find a discrepancy between age groups in companies? One imagines that young digital natives – laptop on the knees and a cappuccino beside – consider mobile work as individual liberty and independence, while older workers long for the traditional office environment.

On the contrary, Eurofound found that considering the whole workforce, 60% of workers would like to work from home (daily or several times a week) after the pandemic, 71% of employees reported that they were satisfied with working from home. Levels of satisfaction were notably high among those who were teleworking for 35 to 40 hours per week and those aged over 50 years old.(Eurofound, 2021). A LinkedIn evaluation also shows that two age groups are particularly often looking for such job offers: Members of Generation Z and the Baby Boomer Generation – i.e. the youngest and oldest employees in a workforce look for remote jobs. What could be the reasons for this? Perhaps Baby Boomer applicants are less mobile or they are looking for management positions. Generation Z applicants, on the other hand, are often more experienced with technology and virtual collaboration – both of which are essential for remote jobs. (LinkedIn, 2022)

However, what are employers’ attitudes to these new work arrangements?

The pandemic has introduced innovations and transformations that cannot simply be abolished. “It is widely agreed that the pandemic has had a significant impact on work organisation practices and managerial culture. As time goes on, it is likely that telework and a flexible approach to work organisation will become a more prominent and permanent feature for employers and employees.” (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2021).

Politics are supporting new work arrangements such as telework or mobile work in many European countries. By March 2021, there were legal changes in Italy, Luxembourg, Latvia, Slovakia and Spain, many other countries, like Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Germany, Malta, Poland, Portugal and Slovenia, were reviewing their correspondent national legislation (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2022).

There are some major issues for employers:

  • Location and Rooms

During the pandemic, businesses continued to make expensive rent or mortgage payments for their office space. In case, not all the employees will return to the office in the future it is time to consider some changes: “A survey of 278 executives by McKinsey in August 2020 found that on average, they planned to reduce office space by 30 percent. Demand for restaurants and retail in downtown areas and for public transportation may decline as a result.” (McKinsey Global Institute, 2021). If there is a trend towards moving away from city centres, property prices will also fall as a result, meaning that office space will be worth much less in the future.

  • Work organisation

The work organisation for managers will be more challenging as they will have to keep track of everyone – the ones working in the office and the remote workers. It is not just possible to initiate an ad-hoc face-to-face meeting but long-term planning and monitoring of work results are the new key tasks of managers. (Forbes, 2021)

  • Recruiting

Moving office does not just mean that the rents are lower, in less costly zones employers may attract a skilled workforce that cannot afford to move to expensive cities (McKinsey Global Institute, 2021). An analysis of recent LinkedIn data also suggests that companies offering remote work can achieve more diversity in terms of age, education and gender in the workforce. Compared to men, women are significantly more likely to apply for remote jobs (LinkedIn 2022)

Age is an aspect that often is not even considered in company diversity. But those who focus on a multigenerational workforce can strengthen the company through valuable perspectives – and new work arrangements for all. Mobile working has advantages for employees, companies – and even for the society: More widespread telework has the potential to increase productivity, improve work-life balance and reduce emissions (OECD, 2021). A majority of respondents to the European Investment Bank’s Climate Survey think that post-COVID economic recovery should take into account the climate crisis (European Investment Bank, 2021). So let us go for more mobile work – with all generations!

Ressources

Eurofound, 2021

https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/publications/article/2021/workers-want-to-telework-but-long-working-hours-isolation-and-inadequate-equipment-must-be-tackled

Eurofound, 2022

https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/topic/teleworking

European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2021

https://euagenda.eu/upload/publications/telework–20post-covid.pdf

European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2022

https://healthy-workplaces.eu/en/media-centre/news/teleworking-regulations-are-changing-so-what-do-employers-need-know

European Commission, Science for Policy Briefs, 2020

https://joint-research-centre.ec.europa.eu/document/download/1ccf7717-ab52-4215-b14a-08d74e9d44fc_en

European Investment Bank, 2021

https://www.eib.org/en/stories/telework-and-the-green-recovery

Eurostat 2021

https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/de/web/products-eurostat-news/-/ddn-20210923-1#:~:text=In%202020%2C%2012%25%20of%20employed,6%25%20over%20the%20past%20decade.

Eurostat 2022a

https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Employment_-_annual_statistics

Eurostat 2022b

https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Employment_-_annual_statistics#Remote_work:_disparities_by_country_and_level_of_education

EU-Digital Skills and Jobs Platform, 2021)

https://digital-skills-jobs.europa.eu/en/latest/news/digital-skills-way-safeguard-jobs-snapshot-cedefops-job-loss-covid-19-2021-report

Forbes 2021

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2021/08/17/the-real-reasons-why-companies-dont-want-you-to-work-remotely/

LinkedIn 2022

https://de.linkedin.com/business/talent/resources/women-and-genz-more-likley-to-apply-for-remote-work-cont-fact

McKinsey Global Institute, 2021

https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/the-future-of-work-after-covid-19

OECD, 2021

https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/teleworking-in-the-covid-19-pandemic-trends-and-prospects-72a416b6/


[1] Note that ‘usually working at home’ means doing any productive work related to the current job at home for at least half of the days worked in a reference period of 4 weeks, and ‘sometimes working at home’ means the same but for at least 1 hour in the reference period of 4 weeks (and less than half of the days worked).

BalanceForBetter slogan held by a woman

“Work that Fits Your Life” initiative of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise

We believe that work shouldn’t be your life—work should fit your life.” – ALAN MAY, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT & CHIEF PEOPLE OFFICER, Hewlett Packard Enterprise[i]

In this blog post a brief picture is given on an initiative announced by Hewlett-Packard in April 2019, the “Work that Fits Your Life” initiative.

“Our ‘Work That Fits Your Life’ program centers on life outside of work, so our people can focus on what matters most to them at different times in their lives—whether they’re growing their family, reentering the workforce, or nearing retirement. With this program, HPE is leading the way in workplace flexibility, family leave, and returnships.” – Alan May, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, HPE [ii]

As part of the ‘Work That Fits Your Life’ initiative, the following innovations have been introduced at HPE:
 

Wellness Fridays to promote overall health and well-being by leaving work early once a month so people can take time out for themselvesEnhanced Family Leave to provide a minimum of six months fully paid leave for moms and dads after the birth or adoption of a child.
Parental Transition Support for parents who want to return gradually by working part-time for up to 36 months after the birth or adoption of a child.Retirement Transition Support for those within a year of retirement who want to ease into it by working part-time, for however long they and their leader agree.
Career Reboot with job opportunities and training at HPE for people who left the workforce for an extended period; for example, to raise a child. [iii] 

Carrier return is not easy. Any company who recognises this and creates a return-to-work programme will be of great help to those who are temporarily out of work for whatever reason, and may find dedicated employees who are grateful for the help they receive. They also help workers at the aggregate level, and a well-qualified worker can return to a position that matches his/her skills and previous experience, rather than being forced to accept a lower-skilled position because of the absence.

What exactly is the HPE Carrier Reboot Program?

Those individuals could apply for the program, who had at least five years of experience and have been out of the labour market for at least 12 months. The program offers:

  • A temporary assignment of up to 12 weeks.
  • Online training to update the candidate’s technical knowledge and skills.
  • Mentoring, buddy programs and other forms of networking support.
  • The possibility to apply for a full-time job at the end of the assignment.

These quotations taken from the announcement of the program at the website of Path Forward, an organisation that supports HPE in their Carrier Reboot program is outstandingly positive. It describes the intention behind the whole program, and the quotation shows the dedication, which is really good reading for anyone who supports diversity and inclusion in the workplace:

“At Hewlett Packard Enterprise, our people are at the heart of what we do. It’s why we offer benefits that help our employees be their best and love what they do. It’s also why we offer Career Reboot—an industry-leading benefit that allows for a smoother, more confident transition back to work. … We are a company strengthened by people of different ethnicities, cultures, generations, abilities, education levels, sexual orientation, and gender identities. We believe that innovation is the by-product of an inclusive and diverse workplace. Behind every one of our breakthrough technology solutions is a group of thinkers, individuals who examine our customers’ challenges from different perspectives and every possible angle. Our inclusive culture recognizes brilliance in all forms and emphasizes the inherent worth of unique traits. In fact, we consider inclusion and diversity to be one of our strongest business assets as well as one of the most valued aspects of our culture. At HPE, you can bring your full self, everything that makes you unique, to work every day.”[iv]

The whole programme is very welcome, and the HPE’s willingness to spearhead the necessary social change initiative is also very commendable. It will certainly have a big impact that one of the largest multinationals on earth has recognised and acknowledged that there are times in the lives of employees (mostly women) when their lives cannot be about work. And that is right. However, as soon as this period is over, these (female) workers would return to work and a bridging programme is needed to ensure a smooth return. HPE, to everyone’s delight, has recognised this need and has been at the forefront of change with its Work that Fits Your Life and Carrier Reboot initiatives. We hope that many others will follow suit, and to sum up, congratulations, HPE!

The opinions of the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Consortium


[i] https://www.hpe.com/us/en/newsroom/blog-post/2019/04/leading-the-way-in-workplace-flexibility.html

[ii] https://www.pathforward.org/your-path-forward-at-hpe/

[iii] https://www.hpe.com/us/en/newsroom/blog-post/2019/04/leading-the-way-in-workplace-flexibility.html

[iv] https://www.pathforward.org/your-path-forward-at-hpe/

Generation labels – do we need them?

Author: Technical University of Kosice | Photo: by Sharon McCutcheon from pexels.com

Millennials, Gen Zs, Baby Boomers…each generation has its name and is supposedly defined by its characteristics based on the year of birth. You may have heard that Baby Boomers are though workaholics with strong working morale and Millennials can do magic with technology but are somewhat lazy. But don´t these labels do more damage than good?

The practice of naming generations goes back to the 19th century. Social scientist Philip Cohen claims there is no empirical evidence for imposing the character traits that are believed to define a specific generation. What´s more, they tend to be rather generational stereotypes than facts.

The main problem is that generation is too wide. You can have two people from the one generation born on two opposite ends of that period and their experiences and therefore characteristics can be different.

Cohen makes a valid point when explaining this example: the tennis champion Williams sisters are a generation apart,[1] Venus, born 1980, is part of “Gen X”; Serena, born 1981, is a “Millennial.” Meanwhile, Donald Trump and Michelle Obama are both in the same generation. The former was born in 1946 while the latter was born in 1964, making them both “baby boomers“[2], even though there is almost 20 years apart them.

But do not make mistakes. Cohen and his fellow scientists are not trying to say that the whole concept of generation is wrong. No, generations are one of many analytical lenses researchers use to understand societal change and differences across groups. While there are limitations to the generational analysis, it can be a useful tool for understanding demographic trends and shifting public attitudes. They are simply proposing that external circumstances, the global situation and historic events are much more likely to influence the typical characteristics of a group of people than the year they were born.

What´s more, we must not forget that the personality of an individual plays a crucial role when it comes to traits and that you can find Boomers that are more technologically fluent than some of the members of Gen Z. That is because every generation is diverse and generalisations shouldn´t be made on just arbitrary lines between birth years and attributes.

So what solution do they propose? There are lots of options to use instead of these generational “labels”. We can simply describe people by the decade they were born, which would narrow the period down and reflect the historic circumstances more accurately. Or we can define cohorts specifically related to a particular issue — such as 2020 school kids. Whatever solution we choose, we should always keep in mind that a person is always an authentic individual, no matter to which age cohort belongs. The opinions of the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Consortium


[1] Pew Research Centre: https://www.pewresearch.org/st_18-02-27_generations_defined/

[2] P.N. Cohen: Opinion: Generation labels mean nothing. It´s time to retire them: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/07/generation-labels-mean-nothing-retire-them/

Mentoring, wisdom in disguise

In Odyssey, Mentor was the son of Alcimus, and Ulysses’ friend and trusted companion.  He was the one that took under his responsibility and guidance Telemachus, Ulysses’ son, when he had to leave for Troy.  Mentor was also responsible for Ulysse’s palace, and it was his disguise that Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, took to appear to Telemachus and advise him to stand up to his mother’s suitors. Because of Mentor’s relationship with Telemachus, and the disguised Athena’s encouragement and practical plans for dealing with personal struggles and dilemmas, the personal name Mentor has been adopted in Latin and other languages, as a term meaning someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less-experienced colleague. 

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4 bumping fists over a table with documents

Attracting different generations to the labour market

Today’s multigenerational employee teams consist often of four different generations, i.e.:

  • Gen Z (born 1997-2012),
  • Millennials (1981-1996),
  • Gen X (1965-1980) as well as
  • Boomers II (1955-1964).

The EU Green Paper on Ageing[1] published in January 2021 states the EU’s working-age population has decreased during recent years. In order to avoid future labour shortages and a subsequent subsiding of well-being in Europe, it is vital to bring more people into the labour market and to enable longer individual working lives.

What potential target groups need to be addressed to increase their labour-market participation? Are they highly represented in a specific generation?

  • Gen Z:                               People with migrant background
  • Millennials:                       Parents
  • Gen X:                               Carers
  • Boomers II:                       Older workers
  • All generations:               People with disabilities, Women

What kind of support do these groups need to increase their labour-market participation?

Apart from the legal requirements (e.g. work permit, right of residence), people with a migrational background need a workplace that ensures the individually required education and training, as well as personal support. This goes on to entail a working environment that not only promotes but is also respectful of diversity.

Parents and carers both tend to other family members and for that reason have similar needs. Due to their family responsibilities, they themselves are usually not very flexible in terms of place of employment and working hours, they are not able to work full-time and often need flexible working time arrangements at short notice. In order to support these vulnerable groups and to encourage a better sharing of caring responsibilities between women and men, a new EU directive on work-life balance for parents and carers entered into force in July 2019[2].

https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/embed/index.html?ref=I-136352&lg=EN

The motivation for older workers to continue working is highly dependent on their individual financial situation and health condition. Due to lower state pensions, many pensioners in Europe have to work in order to meet their living costs. At the same time, initial research reports show that the introduction of actuarial deductions encourages older employees to continue working and postpone the pension benefit claiming date[3]. However, workers in non-physically demanding jobs opted for this more often than those working in white-collar jobs – a fact that may be related to health reasons.

People with disabilities require individual solutions in terms of place of work, working hours, working environment and facilities, as well as technical and personal support. If these conditions are met, they can develop their full working capacity and become long-term employees. Active company diversity management will ensure their permanent well-being at the workplace.

Many women are mothers and carers for family members, but not all. Children may have grown up, but women face problems that prevent a return to the labour market: balancing a full-time job and household, commuting to work without affording an extra car, as well as skill obsolescence or skill gaps, in particular with digital skills, are some of the obstacles. Individual training and lifelong learning, part-time arrangements and digital work settings are suitable employer offers that will attract females. More women in the labour market will not only close the gender gap in society, but bring in important team skills. Scientific research showed that gender-mixed teams, in particular those with female leaders, gain better results than homogeneous male or female teams. Women are better at managing finances and resources, female employees or managers show more empathy, which can lead to a better team atmosphere, and women tend to be more level-headed in difficult situations.[4]

Therefore, there is potential in Europe to attract more people from all generations to the labour market.

Get inspired by best practice examples from EU Member States:

https://op.europa.eu/de/publication-detail/-/publication/eeaeb9c5-7c40-11e9-9f05-01aa75ed71a1


[1] https://op.europa.eu/de/publication-detail/-/publication/d918b520-63a9-11eb-aeb5-01aa75ed71a1/language-en

[2] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A32019L1158#PP4Contents

[3] https://www.mpisoc.mpg.de/fileadmin/user_upload/MEA-DP_21-2020.pdf

[4] https://www.familienpakt-bayern.de/infocenter/massnahmen/bsp-div-teams.html


Attitudes of various generations at the workplace

At present, there are five different generations working at the same time on the labour market side by side. In our days the most influential ones are Generation X,Y and Z. As each of these  generations prepare themselves to play a dominant role in the global economy, there have been numerous studies and researches  written by academics, businesspeople and policymakers on what motivates and demotivates these generations at work, what working styles characterize them and what leadership patterns are to be expected from their members.

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Engagement in a 5 generation teams… Do we need it? Is it possible?

Employee engagement is the strongest driver for a great performance. Engaged employees is the main company asset and the basis for being competitive and successful in any market. It is up to leaders to build a good working atmosphere, include and empower their teams, offer recognition, build a culture of feedback, and give a purpose and sense of belonging to the employees. This certainly is a challenge…. And let’s not forget, nowadays we are working with multigenerational teams where there are 5 generations in the working place.

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