Publications and studies

IBA/bso Study 2013/14

Find out more

Three generations in the office

Telephone surveys of human resources managers/managing directors and office workers.

  • Survey of human resources managers/managing directors conducted by: abs Marktforschung Stefan Ströhle
  • Survey of employees in the office sector: forsa Gesellschaft für Sozialforschung und statistische Analysen mbH
  • Publication: December 2014

In September 2013, the human resources managers and managing directors of 450 private companies in Germany were initially asked about the age structure of their workforces and about any differences between the various employee generations. The focus was on how the generations communicated and on their willingness to cooperate. In the last part of the survey, the human resources managers and managing directors had the opportunity to evaluate the workplaces in their companies. In order to find out the users’ perspective, a second survey was conducted in April 2014. In this case, a total of 1,003 employees were asked about their views concerning their respective workplaces.

Both surveys were conducted as part of the New Work Order project.

In order to simplify the interviews, which were conducted on the telephone, the three employee generations were defined as follows:

  • Generation Y: Young people under 30
  • Generation X: Employees aged between 30 and 49
  • Baby boomers: Employees aged 50 and over

Summary of results

The trend researcher Birgit Gebhardt has advanced the thesis that a new work culture will form across a broad front within companies only if most of the management positions are filled with members of Generation Y. If this thesis is correct, many companies still have a long way to go. That’s because representatives of Generation X and the baby boomers are still sharing the management of these companies.

Today the representatives of Generation Y have the least decision-making responsibility in large companies with 250 or more office workplaces. In such companies, most of the senior management positions are still occupied by representatives of the baby boomer generation.

Most German companies are still facing huge challenges not only in terms of their personnel but also at the organizational level. Many work processes and structures have still not been adapted to the new challenges resulting from scientific findings. This is demonstrated by the fact that employees from the middle generation in particular are suffering from a growing workload. In many cases, newly added project work is the cause of this increasing workload. This form of cooperation should actually be replacing other work processes, but the survey shows that today employees often have to manage project work in addition to their “normal” workload. Besides, half of all companies do not have the appropriate tools to efficiently manage the increased need for communication.

As a result, organizing work more efficiently is one possible way to combat the (impending) shortage of specialist employees and the associated capacity shortfalls. For example, these companies could focus on more readily delegating the responsibility for project work to younger employees. This delegation of responsibility should be accompanied by regular feedback, because the young employees from Generation Y demand regular assessments of their performance. Other opportunities lie in the managers’ involvement of older employees. It’s true that most older employees seem to be looking forward to retirement, but according to the human resources managers who were surveyed, a third of the employees could imagine themselves working for their current employer even after reaching the official retirement age. However, this would require not only an appropriate legal framework but also greater flexibility on the part of the companies themselves.

All the same, cooperation between the representatives of the three employee generations is generally working quite well. About 40% of the human resources managers reported generation-specific communication behaviour. In many cases this merely means that individuals prefer different communication channels, and these preferences do not have a great effect on daily communication at work. However, this is not true of all companies: 12% of the respondents reported that the differences between the generations act like sand in the gears, slowing down organizational processes again and again. Individual respondents reported in interviews that the representatives of the different age groups also meet in different places. This would be an opportunity to think about the placement and equipment of communication zones that could serve as shared meeting points. However, as the IBA/bso Study 2015 has shown, many companies still have some catching up to do.

In general, the managers as well as the employees are satisfied with their work environments. However, the employees believe more strongly in the need for improvement than the managers do. This is especially true of office design. In addition, many employees complain that the furniture and equipment of their offices is not appropriate to their company.

The study can be downloaded in German at IBA Publications.