Adapt or Perish

The ageing population, generational incongruities in the workplace and the redefinition of
work life are all topics that have been the source of much coverage and heated debate over the Internet and in boardroom meetings across the world lately. Different strategies to deal with ‘problem’ generations Y and Z, theories on how and why conflicts arise between different age groups and large quantities of statistics and research abound in an effort to understand and manage these issues. There is a surfeit of information out there that’s being gobbled up by workers desperate to put things into perspective and understand and control what’s going on around them. This is a response to a sudden, behemoth dawning of change.

Despite the fact that these things have been brewing for some time, it appears that they have caught a lot of organisations and workers off-guard. So how do you deal with these seemingly monolithic changes?

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

With a beard that impressive, this guy obviously knows what he’s talking about.

Key to success is fluidity of mindset and a desire to understand, especially when it comes to the human side of business. While rapidly evolving technology has been the catalyst for many dramatic changes in business, the most profound come from the force behind these advances – people. To simplify things, think of the beloved slogan of the NRA “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. While this may be a logical fallacy when it comes to vitriolic gun-law debates, it holds a tiny grain of truth underneath its oversimplification. Business and technology are human creations, and are only as good as the people behind them, which is why it is critical to endeavour to understand and adapt to our changing sociology.  

The Numbers
Ageing Population
The median age of an Australian in 1976 was 28.3, whereas it is 37.9 years today[1] and in 2016, it will be 40.1[2].

In 2002, people aged 65 and over made up 13% of the population, and that figure is projected to increase to around 25% by 2042 and the proportion of the population aged between 15-64 years (labour force age) will decline from 67% (2004) to roughly 59% by 2051.[3]

Population composition by Generation
Builders (born before 1946) comprise 17% of the population
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) represent 26%
Generation X  (1965-1979) represent 21.5%
Generation Y (1980-1994) represent 20.5%
Generation Z (1995-2009) represent 15%[4]

The above numbers are just a quick snapshot – for more detailed information, visit the ABS website.

As the older generations are, for the most part, already in roles, it is important to focus on retention strategies. If you have valuable staff that are edging towards retirement age, keeping them on board will be reliant upon the development of alternative work arrangements (part time work, ‘grandparent leave’, leave buy back), the ability to provide work satisfaction through innovative channels (such as mentoring arrangements with younger workers, creating opportunities for staff contribution, training on new technologies) and a genuine interest in the retirement process and what it means for employees. However if you’re seeking rather than trying to retain, how would you go about it? Every company has a different strategy that is suited specifically to them, because every organisation has different things to offer workers. Incorporate knowledge and understanding of mature workers, including their wants, needs and professional outlooks, into your recruitment strategies to ensure effectiveness. For instance, some skills are concentrated to a particular age group, so do your research when recruiting for a role and target that demographic – don’t get caught up in trying to win over a younger audience with a high powered dynamic show of culture that sets Gen Y’s salivating, because you’ll end up missing out on attracting the older candidates with the right experience.

I often hear grumblings (whether it be on the street or in the office) like “Those bloody Gen Y’s, they’ve got a terrible work ethic and an awful attitude” or “Those grumpy old Boomers are stuck in their ways and they’re taking me down with them”. It doesn’t matter who I hear this coming from – young, old, short, tall – I always have to swallow my rage before I go and say something silly. Yes – there are differences between people born in different cohorts, we’ve all experienced dramatically different things in our formative years, so there’s bound to be variances. But instead of just writing them off as generational attitudes that are set in stone, make the effort to understand them and respond to them in a way the ensures the best outcome for both parties. Think your Gen Y staff have commitment issues? Offer incentives to retain them – find out what it is that would keep them around and work out a way for them to get what they want, while giving you what you need. It can be as simple as allowing a younger staff member to reach outside the parameters of their role and attempt something new – different people want different things from their job.

Maybe you’re asking, “Why should I have to do these things? It’s my business and I’ll run it how I see fit”. If you are asking that –


For shame indeed. The workplace is rapidly changing, things are evolving and the world isn’t going to stop turning, no matter how hard you try or how loud you grumble. Adapt and survive.