Generational tensions may surface as employees postpone retirement

Generational tensions may surface as employees...

Driven and self-confident, younger generations are less likely to be attached to a single employer and their objectives.

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Press Release

Many of the UK’s youngest workers believe that older colleagues are in danger of stifling their career prospects by retiring later according to a survey by KPMG, and that the prolonged presence of Baby Boomers and Generation X in the workforce could damage productivity. As the number of over 65s in the labour force tops one million*, a UK-wide survey of 1,500 people reveals that these tensions may rise, with the need for employees to stay in the labour force for longer growing due to social and financial pressures.

Carried out for KPMG by OnePoll, the survey suggests that many believe the interests of younger employees are could increasingly become pitted against those of their older colleagues, with nearly half (46%) agreeing that older members of staff need to retire so that younger workers have a genuine chance of career progression. Questioning their contribution to the workforce, nearly half of those surveyed agreed that a much older workforce would drain productivity. Worryingly, only 20% of respondents believe that employees will want to retain older workers to learn from their experience – the suggestion being that many of those employed recently are unconvinced about the benefits that older workers can bring.

Yet, while younger employees feel they may bear the brunt of their older colleagues’ extended stay in the workplace, there is also a growing acceptance that older workers will have to continue working for longer. The vast majority of respondents believe that insufficient pensions will become more commonplace due to longer life expectancy, with 81% saying that as a result of living longer, more people will end their lives in poverty. As rising long term care costs drain retirement funds, two thirds also believe that people will be forced to work until they die.

“As people remain in the workplace for longer, older workers will inevitably constitute a larger proportion of the workforce. Although this may breed the pernicious perception that the younger generation will lose out, this does not have to be the case. Far from it – an older workforce brings a wealth of experience and Baby Boomers can potentially adopt the invaluable role of coach or mentor to those entering the workplace.  The companies who succeed will be those who take advantage of what older workers can bring to the table, in a way that is both innovative and inclusive.  They will be the ones who can find a way for the Baby Boomers in their workforce to be enablers for the young rather than blockers,” says Robert Bolton, partner and co-lead of KPMG’s HR global centre of excellence.

Younger generation unafraid to challenge their employers

The survey goes on to suggest that a generational divide is also emerging in terms of attitudes towards work.; 58% of those from Generation Y, for example, are more likely to be content earning ‘enough’, rather than constantly striving for more – a figure that drops to 48% amongst Baby Boomers.

Ethical credentials of a company also seems to matter more to younger generations than their older counterparts, with 55% of Generation Y saying that the CSR record of a company would influence their choice of employer, compared to 45% of Generation X.

Driven and self-confident, younger generations are also less likely to be attached to a single employer and their objectives. One in four (24%) Generation Y respondents believe that “individuals will increasingly challenge and question their organisation’s purpose”, compared to a mere one in ten (12%) of Baby Boomers. Moreover, nearly 40% of Generation Z believes that individuals will increasingly work for more than one organisation at the same time, compared to just 25% of Baby Boomers.

Yet it is not all bad news for employers.  The survey suggests that some aspects of what makes a company a great place to work never change – flexibility in the workplace is important for all generations, with two thirds saying the option to work beyond the narrow nine-to-five boundaries drives their choice of employer. 

Bolton concludes: “New entrants to the jobs market are unafraid to challenge the status quo, with many refusing to accept that things should be ‘done this way’ just because the current method has always been the one to use.  Some employers may be concerned about the changing attitude, but the truth is that good leadership is about challenging, about innovating and about striving to boost performance.  Employers should welcome these traits as, properly guided, they suggest that in the long-term today’s challengers will be tomorrow’s leaders.”


Media enquiries:

Mike Petrook, KPMG Press Office

T: 020 7311 5271

M: 07917 384 576


KPMG Press office: +44 (0) 207 694 8773

Notes to Editors:

*Figures from the Labour Market Statistics published on 12 June 2013, Office for National Statistics

About the survey:

This survey was conducted by One Poll, commissioned by KPMG in May 2013. It asked 1,500 respondents from ages 17 – 80, about their current attitudes to work and their thoughts on the future of the workplace. This KPMG survey is the first in a series of research initiatives called P3, exploring new challenges employers will have to face in an evolving workplace.

About KPMG

KPMG LLP, a UK limited liability partnership, is a subsidiary of KPMG Europe LLP and operates from 22 offices across the UK with over 11,000 partners and staff.  The UK firm recorded a turnover of £1.7 billion in the year ended September 2011. KPMG is a global network of professional firms providing Audit, Tax, and Advisory services. We operate in 152 countries and have 145,000 professionals working in member firms around the world. The independent member firms of the KPMG network are affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative ("KPMG International"), a Swiss entity.  KPMG International provides no client services.

This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK.

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