May 17

Implications of the new intergenerational workforce

Posted: 23 May 2017
Des Kelly OBE

Skills for Care board member Des Kelly OBE reflects on the growing intergenerational workforce in social care.

“There may well be five generations working alongside each other by 2020” - this was one of the rather startling predictions in a presentation I heard recently at a strategy event with the senior management team of a care provider charity.

I admit I'd never really thought of this before... notwithstanding the fact that it is pushing the boundaries of possibilities to make a point! However, it is already the case that there are four generations of workers in many workplaces. And, given that the social care sector is characterised by an ageing workforce, there are particular implications. As people work longer, defer their retirement, opt to work part time and the like, the composition and dynamics of the workforce will continue to change.

Does this matter? Arguably it’s important because there appear to be different attitudes, values and expectations associated with different age groups. In the presentation these four generations of workers were described as:

  • ‘Baby Boomers’ – born between 1946 and 1964
  • ‘Gen Xers’ – born between 1965 and 1979
  • ‘Millennials’ – born between 1980 and 1995
  • ‘Gen Zers’ – born after 1996

Okay it is a crude way to categorise workers and the analysis does involve considerable assumptions and stereotypes. Nevertheless, the analysis enables some illuminating differences to be exposed and explored. ‘Baby Boomers’, for example, are seen as having a strong work ethic, expect a hierarchical culture and want respect from their employer. ‘Gen–Xers’ are considered to have innovative and independent traits and enjoy problem solving opportunities and autonomy in the workplace. ‘Millennials’ meanwhile are more likely to be tech-savvy and collaborative workers who like flexibility and meaningful work with training opportunities to develop new skills. And finally ‘Gen-Zers’ might be expected to be digitally fluent and flourish in a diverse workforce supported by a culturally competent employer. Well maybe!

You can’t argue with the view that this approach raises some interesting questions for employers and managers both in the recruitment of staff now and in the future, as well as potential implications for retention, stability and loyalty. Obviously some of these stereotypes are imperfect and need to be treated with a certain amount of caution. We know more about some groups in the workforce than others. The Skills for Care NMDS-SC data provides a wealth of information about the social care workforce including the distribution of the age of our workers. We know, for example, that barely more than 10% of care workers are aged under 25. We don't know enough about what motivates different people let alone whether they conform to a set of characteristics based on their age. We certainly don't yet know anywhere near enough about how employers might appeal to different groups based on their age.

as the demographics of society change, so will workforces and workplaces

What we do know though is that as the demographics of society change, so will workforces and workplaces. The workforce that makes up social care is no different and will probably continue to change. There will without doubt be a wider range of ages working together than at any time in our history. And this takes a bit of thinking about. It is vital to plan for this fundamental change. There are likely to be different things that appeal to workers of different ages or different stages of their lives. Whatever you think about it the proposal announced this week about unpaid carer leave for 12 months plays to this change. It will present particular challenges and bring particular opportunities for all employers including those in the care sector. It is essential therefore to think about what the future workforce will look like because it will be intergenerational as never before.



Find out how the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care (NMDS-SC) can help you understand more about your workforce and plan for the future.

If you’re looking for more in-depth and one-to-one support, Skills for Care offers a range of services.  Contact us to find out more.