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Baby Boomers driving great work-life rebalancing revolution

By Marcus Beaver, UKI Country Leader at Alight Solutions

July 5 2021 - Changes are afoot, but not quite how many of us are being made to believe, and not with the level of anarchy the headlines might suggest. Rather than the masses resigning in protest to returning to the daily commute, less than 10% across all age groups have said they’d prefer never to return to an office, with 65% happy to combine working in an office with work from home.

What is interesting, however, is who is driving this permanent change to hybrid workstyles. It’s not Gen Z, once hyped to disrupt everything familiar with how, where and when we all work, but the Sandwich Generation. People raising older children and caring for elderly parents, or those winding down careers towards retirement who’ve realised the greatest advantages of flexible working, and they’re not giving this up without a fight.

Where there is almost universal agreement is in the hours, we work. Flexible hours and compressed weeks are most popular with the 40 plus age groups. Move over Dolly Parton and Sheena Easton, Working 9 - 5 is no longer a way to make a living and no one’s baby is about to take the morning train. The Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who once sung out these workers anthems are taking control and driving the 'great work-life rebalance revolution of 2021'.

This is a generation who also regret prioritising work over family. The workplace cultures of the past three decades held the overriding dictate that first in last out demonstrates success. The longer the hours and the less holiday taken, the greater the demonstration of loyalty. No. This lead to a pandemic of stress and breakdown. Another example of presenteeism we need to see an end to. People are choosing to stand up to employers and if flexible working or to branch out on their own as one of the growing number of self-employed people.

Contrary to what we’re often led to believe, the laggards are mostly younger employees. Is there security in structure in 9 to 5? Quite possibly as they transition from education to work.

Employers need to get the balance right

The only way to do this is via continuous employee pulse surveys. Actual fact finding. Not finger in the air guess work or being led by the press headlines. With workplace data readily available in HR systems it’s surprisingly easy to extract workforce sentiment at any given time. For firms moving forward, this is going to mean the difference between maximum growth or minimum survival in many cases.

Largely, it’s the 50 plus age group again holding employers over a barrel. For now, they have the skills, experience and intellectual property needed to rebuild and grow while the next generation start to couple this with the digital knowhow needed to take businesses forward. Younger people recognise this too.

Those just starting out or in the early stages of their careers, possibly still living at home or in crowded house shares, have had a bumpy start. They’ve been onboarded remotely and few have physically met anyone from their company. The culture and structure of the organisation is alien to them and they’re feeling lost.

New starters also know they need the knowledge and skills transfer gained from working closely with more experienced colleagues. And, employers need them back to the office quickly for exactly these reasons, so these future leaders can foster a feeling of loyalty to the company.

Not ashamedly, the social side of work is also missed. So many lifelong friendships and relationships have been formed at work and some of the world’s largest brands and employers have evolved from the couplings of colleagues who met at a previous employer.

The balance of power will keep shifting

For now, employees might hold the trump card, but the only certainty going forward is a highly disruptive digital workplace revolution. The 2020 work-from-home "experiment" presented the pros and cons for employees and employers. These remain largely old-world problems, but the new world brings solutions able to address these.

While there might be a call for employees to go back to the office this year, but I predict a new trend over the next three to five years. As leases come up for renewal and with the increasing integration of automation and cloud-workspaces. fewer people will be needed in head office locations.

Head office locations tend to be expensive and employees demand city-weighting on their salaries, travel loans, expense accounts and so on, all eating away at profits. The danger here is these jobs can be moved to people living in lower salaried, lower cost real-estate locations. Some of these will remain in the UK, but many firms will take advantage of the wealth of talent now easily accessible via remote work tools.

The other option is employers moth ball existing space and presented on the balance sheet, so it doesn’t affect profits. This is possibly what companies looking for buyers or going for IPOs etc., will be looking to do as business strategies are reviewed post-pandemic.

For those who refuse to return to the office as required by their employers, could face challenges down the line. Is working several days in an office a better option for you than relocation? Now is not a time to lock horns on the return to the return to office debate, but a time to work in employee - employer partnership. This is the only way to secure best outcomes for all parties.



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