Age gaps between workers, managers can stymie productivity, survey says — but inclusion efforts can help

Generational tensions appear to be linked to lower productivity at work. In particular, employees who are much younger than their managers report lower productivity due to a lack of collaboration between generations, according to a Jan. 25 report from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Protiviti, a global consulting firm.

However, in companies with intergenerationally inclusive work practices, productivity was higher in younger generations. The proportion of employees who reported low productivity dropped from 37% to 18% among Gen Z workers and from 30% to 13% among millennial workers.

“I am not surprised that we discovered a ‘productivity manager age gap.’ There is good evidence that across generations individuals have different tastes and preferences. So why do we expect them to work easily together?,” Grace Lordan, the research co-author and founder and director of The Inclusion Initiative at LSE, said in a statement.

“We now have five generations working together in the workplace, and the skills that are required to manage these dynamics are not usually being taught by firms,” she said. “Our research shows that if we invest in giving these skills to managers and creating intergenerationally inclusive workplaces, there are significant productivity gains to be had.”

In a survey of 1,450 U.S. and U.K. employees in the finance, technology and professional services industries, 25% self-reported low productivity. 

Employees reported lower productivity when they were significantly younger than their managers. Specifically, workers with managers more than 12 years older than themselves were nearly 1.5 times more likely to report low productivity.

Across generations, however, workers agreed on the skills deemed most important for productivity and career advancement: active listening, time management and judgment/decision making.

High productivity levels were reported at companies with intergenerationally inclusive work practices, which were defined as employers that make it easy for each generation to “fit in,” enable colleagues to have similar levels of voice when collaborating, and advance workers based on merit rather than age.

In these companies, across the board, 87% of employees reported high productivity levels, compared with 58% of employees at companies without these inclusive practices. In addition, employees at inclusive workplaces were twice as likely to be satisfied with their jobs and less likely to look for a new role.

With a multigenerational workforce, employers may face challenges with a “one-size-fits-most” approach to benefits design and engagement, according to an EY and Limra report. Total rewards strategies may need a revamp, shifting from plans designed for Gen X and Baby Boomer employees to incorporate the needs and preferences of younger workers.

At the same time, companies shouldn’t overlook their older employees and older applicants, experts say. Although employers say they value their older workers, hiring managers may overlook older applicants, according to a report from Generation, a global employment non-profit, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

To attract and retain older workers, companies need to address “blind spots” and ageism, according to a Center for Workforce Inclusion panel. Employers can reevaluate recruitment materials and improve diversity, equity and inclusion efforts by broadening the pool of candidates being considered for a position.