Spaces   //   December 8, 2021  ■  4 min read

Generation gap widening over attitudes toward hybrid working models

When it comes to politics or social values the generation gap can be quite wide, and we are now seeing different opinions between younger people and colleagues of their parents’ age about hybrid working.

If the Great Resignation trend becomes a reality this is an issue employers must take seriously because views can vary from company to company.

Business and workplace psychologists love these kinds of debates and Jayson Darby, head of science at specialist psychometric testing and assessments company Thomas International, said age does play a role when it comes to home versus the office.

“Age often correlates with how far an individual is on their career path. This can influence people’s preferences and their ability to make a success of hybrid working,” he said. “Someone older in the workforce is more likely to be in a senior or more stable position. This equates to financial and job security and often means they can enjoy the benefits of hybrid working more easily.”

But he accepted there are other factors at play, including people’s diverse characteristics and personality types. “There are individuals of all ages who are more introverted and prefer working at home more regularly, while many people prefer to be in the office surrounded by others.”

Research by global recruiter Robert Walters reveals how important it is to get the balance right because this is not a clear young versus old discussion.

Its studies show that one third of Gen Z professionals would like to work remotely all the time, much higher than for millennials (15%), Gen X (11%) and Boomers (12%), out of a total 5,000 workers polled.

When asked about the optimum number of days they would like to go into the office, Gen Z, Millennials Gen X said the most they would tolerate would be two days (21%/31%/31%), while 29% of boomers could cope with three days.

Chris Poole, managing director at Robert Walters, said for many younger people, especially those hired during the pandemic or fresh out of university, remote working is seen as more of the norm.

“However, in spite of younger people taking to remote working like ducks to water, this could be short-lived in 2022,” he said. “Video calls, virtual project planners and apps do not go far enough to help young professionals adopt the interpersonal and soft skills that can only be picked up working face-to-face.”

He added that companies must not underestimate the power of silent shadowing at work where younger generations learn from in-person interactions and observations. 

It seems most companies are researching their workers to get a sense of how people are feeling about hybrid working so that everyone is happy.

Ad tech and data business Integral Ad Science asked its staff across Europe for their views and found that 90% would prefer some kind of hybrid model, whatever their age. They are happy to attend a physical workplace two or three days a week.

EMEA managing director Nick Morley said the generation gap he initially perceived might have been an issue for the business does not seem to exist based on his conversations internally. 

“Of course, there are specific issues. For example, for younger people on our team who live in shared accommodation it can be harder to work from home,” he said. “But across all ages we have not seen any dip in productivity from home working, but we know how important it is for our people — whatever their age — to meet clients face-to-face.”

At Canada-based global marketing technology company Hivestack, vp of global marketing Kira LeBlanc said her business is also in discussions with employees of all ages about future working patterns. She said the company had managed to scale globally in the past year using virtual tools but that employees from all generations are told to come into the office on “collaborative” days. 

“It became apparent that the younger employees on our team preferred a flexible, hybrid model,” she said. “Our work requires a high level of collaboration, and without a doubt brainstorming and face-to-face meetings are highly valuable, especially for fostering and maintaining a positive culture.”

The generation gap debate around modern working practices is still not clear, ultimately because humans are unique, complicated and have specific needs.

This is the view of Justin Pahl, CEO at global brand and customer experience agency VMLY&R London. He believes the marketing and advertising industry needs to move away from the concept of presenteeism which impacts on all ages.

“We also have to ensure that the new ways of working do not create more inequalities. Young or old, we need to ensure people are coming into the office for a reason, and not to just ‘be there’ at their laptops,” he said.