Eliza Filby: the future is multi-generational living

The pandemic has forced the generations together, and changed how we live and work. Many of those changes are here to stay, and we need to adapt our businesses to them, says Dr Filby.

Dr Eliza Filby is a writer, speaker and researcher who specialises in what she calls ‘Generational Intelligence’ helping companies and services understand multi-generational shifts within politics, society and the workplace. She is passionate about the cause of age diversity and bringing the generations together through greater empathy.

In the sixth episode of season two of What’s NEXT, she explored how the pandemic has impacted each generation, and what that means for the post-pandemic world. 

Watch the complete episode

Covid continues to be a real watershed moment for all sorts of reasons, said Filby. It’s accelerating trends that were already happening — both at work and in the home. And, of course, it’s impacted all the generations differently.

The generations of pandemic life

  • Baby Boomers are the post-war generation. They’re quite privileged, they have a lot of wealth, so have been the least impacted economically by the pandemic — but have been at the most health risk.
  • Gen X is both the ignored generation and the first true tech generation. They were the ones both home-schooling and looking after elderly parents during the pandemic, caught by responsibilities on both sides.
  • Millennials are discovering that they are no longer young. They are the best-educated generation, and the smartphone generation — but also the ones who suffered most economically in the financial crisis of 2008, and are likely to suffer again in the pandemic.
  • Gen Z are finding their voice — they are the Corona kids. They’ve lost the most in terms of education and early career employment, and are likely to be the hardest hit by the financial crisis. It’s worth speaking to them, though — you’re eavesdropping on the future.

Generations at work

Everyone is a product of the time they came of age, and that means that different generations bring different skills and experience to the workplace. Smart employers will be working to ensure their organisations take advantage of that.

Age diversity in a workplace is crucial, and is as important as appreciating racial and gender diversity, suggests Filby. You need the mix of experience and ingenuity.

For individuals, though, the experience of the last year has been quite disparate. We have had an age-discriminatory disease, as Filby pointed out. The Baby Boomers have been working from home, quite comfortably, often with plenty of space and a nice view. Their Gen Z colleagues live on their own in small flats, lacking in space and desperate for physical contact.

While, yes, technology has created more connectivity, more humanity into the workspace, through the glimpses into people’s lives — their homes, their kids, their dogs — those differing experiences will determine what people want after the pandemic.

So, what comes next? What does the era of hybrid working look like for these generations?

Post-pandemic working

Gen Z are the group that want to go into the office — they want collaboration and mentorships that arise from the office environment. However, the older generations want to work from home. This is a potentially dangerous mix, suggests Filby. We can’t create a system where the “kids” rule the office three days a week, and the “adults” turn up two days a week. Countering that will require us rethinking the office as a mix of private members club and university campus. We’ll need to rethink the way we train and coach people, and we need to make learning bespoke, high-end and on-demand.

Gen Z will need to constantly upskill — they will be learners throughout their working life. They’re likely to work for 17 different employers and they’re likely to have five careers. Work is much more multi-various and multistage.

Younger generations are moving through the life stages more slowly, and that has a profound impact on how you manage and incentivise them. They stay in education longer, slow entry into work until they’re older, and get married and have kids later. It’s partially down to economics, but also partially better relationships with their family — they’re happier to stay at home into their 30s. This extended adolescence has a huge impact on how you incentivise people: travel is a greater incentive for millennials than a nice pension, for example.

The Multi-Generational Home

And how about life in that multi-generational home? Filby posits that we are ageing in a different way to the way we did in the 20th century. The classic Boomer life of education, followed by a career and family, followed by retirement, just isn’t happening in the same way for later generations.

Gen X will be the last to live that style of life. In current economics, Gen Z will have to work until they are 80 to fund retirement.

But, interestingly, there’s been a reinvestment and refocusing on family during the pandemic. We are calling our parents more. We are more invested in our children’s homework. Some of us now know our partners better. We have experienced multi-generational living in a much more intense way.

This shift was already underway — the financial dependence on parents has extended into later into life with each generation. But now, the younger generations might end up funding their parents’ old age. The connection between generations is staying stronger. The home has become a hub during the pandemic — you’re cooking there, not going out so much. You seek better home entertainment. That’s not going to reverse completely when the pandemic ends.

The needs of the Baby Boomers are going to fade, and things are going to refocus around younger generations. And they’re not going to live in their generational silos. They’re going to be building multi-generational lives.

Generations at work

The pandemic rapidly eroded the separation of home and work. We conceptualise generations through the family as it becomes more important, and the renewed sense of the home hub makes it a bigger part of our identities. Hybrid working will have to facilitate those dual home/work identities more than they did in the past.

We need to manage in a way that allows for family responsibilities. The pandemic has been bad for Gen X women in particular, especially if they are married to husbands who are less progressive. Filby cites the example of a woman who could only get the peace for work calls in the car. Companies have a responsibility to recognise that women are more likely to want more remote working — and that means they need to structure themselves in a way that presence should not mean promotion or be used as a shorthand for productivity.

The last 12 months have been a real wake-up call for both business leaders and for certain men. The male breadwinner model has died out — middle-class couples need both working for the lifestyle they want. There are signs for both hope and for caution in how hybrid working might impact women.

In particular, companies need to make sure women are not penalised in their career for child-rearing or parental care responsibilities. This is a two-way relationship, though. Grandparents (mainly grandmothers) helping out with childcare is a significant economic factor now — it’s the only affordable option in many places.

Multi-generational marketing

This new, cross-generational way of living is going to require a new focus on product and marketing, too. More purchases are now cross-generational decisions. We’re seeing the rise of the multi-generation holidays, and that’s likely to continue once we’re allowed to travel again. Millennials are figuring out that grandparents make great babysitters. It’s now quite culturally acceptable to have your mother come on your hen night.

You need to tap into the humour and warmth of multi-generational marketing, suggests Filby. The family is no longer something that just gets together at birthdays and Christmas — they’re cohabiting, they’re talking more and via different methods and are economically entwined.

This is a summary of an interview with Dr Eliza Filby, conducted by David Mattin and Monique van Dusseldorp during the NEXT Show on April 15th, 2021. You can catch up with Eliza and her work on Twitter and her website.