Employers don't need to guilt trip employee generations back into the office
While commentators - including UK Government ministers - have publicly encouraged older workers to return to the office to help train younger workers, and suggested that younger workers will get on better in their careers if they work physically side-by-side with more experienced colleagues, what employees actually want to do has been overlooked.
Our research shows that four in five (78%) working Scottish adults say they want to work in the office, or at their place of work, at least some of the time. Split by age, this is 73% for millennials (aged 18-34), and 86% for over 55s. A small proportion of these want to be in the office full-time. But the vast majority want a blend of home and office working.
Around half of all age groups said they missed social interaction with colleagues during lockdown, again suggesting desire for full-time remote working is limited.
Nikki Slowey, our co-founder and director, says: “Employers don't need to guilt trip employees back to the office. While all age groups generally want more flexibility at work, the majority want to be in the office at least some of the time.
“There are certainly new challenges for employers around on-boarding and training new and younger workers if people work remotely more often. But these aren't insurmountable. Organising team time in the office, offering development opportunities to non-management staff, or using remote working as an opportunity for less experienced staff to join senior meetings they wouldn’t normally attend if it was in a physical boardroom are just some of the relatively straightforward ways we can support and train young and new workers.
“Employers should ignore inflammatory headlines pitting generations against each other and listen to what their teams have to say. Employees are in the main very sensible and practical when it comes to understanding team dynamics and requirements.”
Emma MacIntyre, 34, from Glasgow, joined Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) six weeks ago as an HR coordinator. She’s been working remotely and hasn’t yet met a single member of her team face-to-face. But she says this hasn’t held her back.
Emma said: “I’ve had great support from my manager and other members of the team to get me inducted and trained via email and phone. I am now six weeks into the role and feel I am fully functioning despite not having been in an office.
“Ideally I’d like a blend of home working and time in the office in future. During the pandemic, I’ve really missed the social interaction you get from colleagues. But with support from managers and colleagues, my experience proves you don’t have to be in the office full time to learn the role.”
Emma’s colleague, Jeralyn Mackenzie, 65, another HR coordinator at HIE, is known playfully as ‘the oracle’ because of her encyclopedic knowledge accrued over the course of 46 years at the organisation.
Jeralyn said: “I work three days a week and in future I’d like to work at least one in the office because I enjoy seeing my colleagues. It means I can share my knowledge and perspective with new and younger workers more easily too. I see that as an important aspect of my contribution now. It’s so important for succession planning, and for the careers of younger generations. I learnt from my more mature peers when I started out, and now I’d like to return the favour to today’s generation.”
Scotch whisky distiller The Glenmorangie Company has been offering development opportunities to non-management staff to ensure younger and newer workers can get the day-to-day support they need. More experienced staff have been able to take on new recruits as direct reports, rather than existing line managers, who often have multiple direct reports already. This has helped new employees get the attention they need, while helping more experienced employees learn new skills.
HR Director Maria Rooney said: “The pandemic has been a challenging time to join a company. To help new employees – often in their first job – to feel more confident, we’ve been pairing them with existing colleagues. As line managers, our more experienced employees offer support and camaraderie, while developing their own management skills.”
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