Intergenerational Workplaces – Stop the Battle of Generations


Recently, the Black Door Law team has noticed an increase in the number of articles portraying a negative view of Generation Z workers. One example of this is the Herald’s “Hiring Gen Z is a nightmare” article. On reflection, these articles seem to identify a harmful stereotype that young workers are becoming increasingly lazy and unreliable in the workforce.

It is important to note that these conflicts have repeated throughout the generations and are often highlighted in the media.  However, they raise important concerns as age is a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993.

In intergenerational workplaces, it is not uncommon for generations to have different values which can lead to generational stereotyping and disharmony between employees. On review of the article, we consider these views could have been caused by a shift between generations relating to:

As Generation Z is estimated to make up 25% of the workforce by 2025, allowing these stereotypes to continue may result in missed opportunities. However, embracing intergenerational workplaces may allow workplaces to thrive.

In this article, we discuss how these generational differences can manifest and some ways that employers and employees can capitalise on these differences to ensure their workplaces thrive.

Culture and Values

In the last 20 years, the employment law has evolved to support our diverse society and provide more safeguards for employees. This shift has meant that employers have had to:

Some employers may feel that they are walking on eggshells and, if they were raised in a “heads down, don’t complain” culture, complaints may be received as critical or confrontational. However, we find it helpful to reframe these instances as an opportunity to:

Sometimes the substance of an employee’s complaint will seem disproportionate to their level of upset. However, people are shaped by different upbringings, experience different prejudices, and will have different opinions on what is and is not acceptable in the workplace.  For one person, a conversation might be viewed as “workplace banter”, but for another, it may be casual racism, sexism, or harassment.

Therefore, it is important to engage with employees about their concerns. Mediating these issues early, adjusting policies, or condemning certain behaviours, can assist in resolving conflicts so that employees can move on and refocus on work. Ultimately fostering efficient working environments and ensuring employees feel supported.

Salary and Growth Opportunities

Financial pressures, such as inflation, the cost-of-living crisis, the pandemic, and minimum wage increases have made the position of business owner’s increasingly challenging. Likewise, young employees grapple with these financial pressures, often looking to their employers for support in the form of promotions and pay raises.

Illustration of a piggy bank

What is deemed a reasonable career and salary progression may also differ based on generational experiences of entering the workforce with different economic realities. This mutual struggle can create a conflict between generations regarding what employers are willing and able to provide versus what is expected of them.

Older generations may not view young people as economically worse off than they were at a similar age. They may attribute this to the Global Financial Crisis and high mortgage rates of the 80’s and 90’s.

On the other hand, young people may view themselves as even more financially vulnerable because there is currently the highest recorded gap between housing costs and average income (See Stats NZ Housing in Aotearoa: 2020). This may explain why, since 1991, 17% fewer people aged between 25 and 29 own homes (Stats NZ). Additionally, young workers may consider that they are more vulnerable as a result of rising educational costs. Currently, 8 out of 10 New Zealand University students graduate with student debt.

Growth opportunities and financial progression can be vital mechanisms to provide young workers with stability, security, and recognition. Regardless of “who has it worse,” job dissatisfaction can negatively impact productivity and employee retention. Employees who receive recognition for their contribution to the business are less likely to jump between jobs. For employers struggling to retain young talent, this may be a key area to consider.

Work-life Balance and Flexibility

Another noticeable shift between generations is that young workers are placing more importance on work-life balance and calling for flexible working arrangements to maintain this.

In recent years, many businesses have begun to accommodate these requests and moved away from a standard 40-hour work week and 9am-5pm structure. For many employers, it has been a big adjustment to:

The main concern for employers appears to be ensuring that they are able to deliver a high-quality product to their cliental and remain profitable. However, our recent article “Hybrid Working – Here to Stay” identified that there are many benefits to accommodating these flexible working arrangements.

Supporting an employee’s flexible working arrangements can result in an increase in:

Overall, supporting these arrangements, where reasonable, can benefit both employers and employees. To accommodate age groups with differing work structure preferences, employers could organize teams based on availability to fill in the gaps of others. To create a trusting relationship, employers could also explore accountability mechanisms for flexible working opportunities.

Modern technology

Additionally, as technology is ever evolving, it can polarise generations. Not only does technology introduce differences in skill sets between generations, but it can also create a change in mindset and costs for employers.

Before email and video calls, older generations relied on in-person and telephone communications. Therefore, for older generations, a reliance on digital communications rather than face-to-face interactions could be seen as unsociable or impersonal. Older generations may also be cautious of evolving technological programs and practices in the workplace.

However, when used in balance within in-person processes, technology can improve information security, time efficiency, and work accuracy. Employers could utilise young workers that have a good understanding of these technologies to develop their social media presence, technical processes, and communications. Younger generations could also be used to train and assist other workers with new technology.

Ultimately, although these differences may create differences between generations, there are many benefits to them. Capitalising on these generational differences could help improve efficiency, employee retention, and keep businesses fit for the future.

If you have questions about your rights or obligations in dealing with intergenerational workplaces, or if you have any other employment law related questions, get in touch here.


Disclaimer: This information is intended as general legal information and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a specific issue and wish to discuss it get in contact with the Black Door Law team