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Breaking news: The longer you live, the worse things are going to get! 

By  Henry Rose Lee

We used to get richer and richer – not now!

It used to be a universal truth that, for the last 150 years, each successive generation was richer and more successful than the previous generation. It was certainly true of Baby Boomers. Aged today between mid-50s to mid-70s, UK Boomers have never had it so good in the UK. They’ve benefited from free NHS, free tuition, good jobs, and great, final-salary pensions. Boomers also had the ability to buy houses in their 20s, despite high interest rates in the early years. And now, 11% of these homes are worth over £1million pounds.

Breaking news: The longer you live, the worse things are going to get!

Table of Contents


This is not true of younger generations. 

So says Shiv Malik. A millennial journalist, author, campaigner and co-founder of the Think Tank, the Intergenerational Foundation, Malik works in the arena of intergenerational dynamics. He argues that younger generations are struggling now, more than ever. As he pointed out in an Oct 2020 interview “In the past, every generation was richer than the one before. It was an economic truth that as the world trundles on and further progress is made, people are better off. Not anymore.”  See video:

 For Malik, if you’re a millennial (aged between 26 and 41), your salary is not enough to cope with ever-increasing costs (energy, food, entertainment, housing, rent – the list goes on an on). And if you’re a Generation Z (aged 13 to 25), you know that you’ll be working for years and years longer than your parents and grandparents. No final salary pension for you!

We’re talking intergenerational inequality

What we’re talking about here is intergenerational inequality. I’m not beating up Baby Boomers. They worked hard to save for deposits to buy houses. They worked hard to keep their homes and their families together, during vicious recessions, price-hikes and property-market crashes. And they saved money, lots of it. They didn’t go out every night, and they didn’t visit a festival or event every weekend. They washed their clothes by hand or in the laundromat, as they saved for a washing machine. They didn’t go on a regular coffee run.

It is true that Boomers were born and have worked during a period of relative economic and technology expansion and stability. With Brexit, Covid, and now the invasion of Ukraine, every human being is paying more for living on this planet. But younger workers, with fewer assets, higher student debt, and increasing living costs, are the least able to cope with the economic downturn and global insecurity.

Recent research from the Resolution Foundation – see report December 2021 – points out that just 4% of Millennials can afford to buy a first home. “Just 4 per cent of young non-owners have both the savings and earnings required to buy a typical first-time buyer (FTB) home in their region, a figure that rises to 10 per cent if they settle for a flat in a cheaper area. As a result, young people are more dependent on substantial windfalls (in the form of the Bank of Mum and Dad, partnering or government support) to access home ownership than in the past.”

We’re talking intergenerational inequality

Intergenerational inequality is complex and confusing

As we all know, the picture of wealth and potential earnings is far more complex across all generations. Covid has played another trick on intergenerational equality.

During pre-pandemic times, there was record employment in the UK across 16- to 64-year-olds, reaching 76.6% at the end of 2019. But by mid-2021 it became clear that two generations have been badly hit; the youngest and oldest workers, (Generation Z and Baby Boomers) have experienced the highest levels of redundancies and job losses. Many Boomers have been pushed into early retirement, even though some of them still want to work, or feel their lack of earnings mean they MUST find work. And once a Boomer is out of work, they are the least likely of all generations to get another job, taking three times longer than any other age group to get back into the workforce.

And once a Boomer is out of work, they are the least likely of all generations to get another job, taking three times longer than any other age group to get back into the workforce.

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And as for Generation Z, unemployment in the UK of 16- to 24-year-olds peaked at 15% at the end of 2020 (the highest of any age-group) and is now around 13%. But although young people are getting back into work, they are not necessarily doing the jobs they want to do. Interrupted education, lost job opportunities and the increase in zero-hours contracts and part-time work, are all challenging the potential – and the earning power – of our youngest talent.

We should all be worrying about our futures now

Shiv Malik wants us to worry more about the future. “If we don’t worry about the future, the future will stop delivering for us!” Well, I think that ship has sailed, Malik. The damage is already done, and intergenerational inequality is clearly the present and the future we all face. Generations that come after Baby Boomers ARE poorer. Job security is more unstable than ever. Costs have risen alarmingly since 2021, with inflation reaching its highest recorded level for 30 years. If anyone in their 20s and 30s can manage to save for a house deposit, their mortgage will be far higher relatively than the mortgage their parents or grandparents had to pay. And if anyone chooses to rent, over buying a house, their rental costs and living costs are also skyrocketing!

Let’s not forget Generation X!

And what about Generation X? It’s the under-represented, least-consulted, quiet, “middle child” generation. It is true that Gen X have been the least likely to lose their jobs during Covid lockdowns. It is true that Gen X has amassed some level of wealth because they’ve been working between 15 and 20 years. But they’re not unscathed by the factors of Covid, Brexit, Ukraine and changing work practices.

And what about Generation X? It’s the under-represented, least-consulted, quiet, “middle child” generation.

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Aged between 42 and 56, this generation is squeezed at work by older and younger generations who want to hang on to jobs. And it’s squeezed at home by older relatives that are living longer but need looking after, and children who returned home from Uni/College or furloughed jobs, during Covid, and who are staying because it’s a cheaper alternative to the outside world.

Gen X is under pressure to keep working, keep earning, and keep on looking after everyone else.

What’s the answer? Suck it up? Admit defeat? Or take action?

So, what now? Do we all just suck it up? Or is there anything to be done, to support every generation? Well at the risk of pissing off anyone with enough staying-power to read this entire article, we don’t all have to roll over and accept our current financial or professional fates.

Everyone is accountable in society.

Everyone is responsible for taking some action when possible. So, here’s my guide to smashing through the intergenerational inequality wall. (Please note that I am not including the youngest generation - Generation Alpha - since the oldest of this cohort is not even a teenager yet and certainly not working officially. I am also excluding The Silent Generation (aged mid 90s and older), because they are largely retired, and economically inactive.

Generation Z – late teens to mid-20s

What can older generations do for Gen Z?

  • Stop judging Gen Z by your generational standards:

The world has changed. Social media was invented in 2008 and now has an iron-grip on most of us, but particularly all younger generations. We now have technology that allows us to work from home (WFH) or work remotely (WFA), which has resulted in changed working practices, but also in increased isolation, loneliness and the reduction of connected employee engagement, connection and community.

And it’s true that research showed Gen Z had the most problems with working from home and with their mental health during lockdowns

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 And it’s true that research showed Gen Z had the most problems with working from home and with their mental health during lockdowns. But we have no research to show how older generations would have dealt with the pressures of social media, and successive lockdowns, furloughs and job losses if they were the same age as the Gen Zers today. Older people should stop judging others negatively. They are not growing up today, in the glare of the 24-hour, always-on, social media world; they are not living in a world where travel, food and living costs swallow up to 30% of your salary. 

  • Start realising that emotional intelligence comes with age:

Another universal truth, proven time and again by modern research, is that – the older we are – the higher our emotional intelligence.  

EVERY young person, whether today, or 50, 100 or 500 years ago, lacked emotional intelligence – partly due to their under-developed experience, knowledge and skills, which come with age and successive training opportunities, and party due to cognitive brain functioning, some of which improves exponentially after the age of 50.

  • Start educating Gen Z about financial security:

At home, parents and grandparents can help to educate our youngest workers on how to save money, invest money, and budget. Given that over half of this cohort own and use a credit card – if they use a credit-builder credit card, it can help to boost their credit.

As moneysupermarket explains “The card issuer gives you a low credit limit, which you can use to make small purchases. If you then pay the balance off in full each month, you’ll show lenders you can borrow responsibly, and your credit score should start to rise over time.” But only 20% of Gen Z understand that if they use a card to pay for holidays, they can get consumer protection if something goes wrong with the purchase.

But only 20% of Gen Z understand that if they use a card to pay for holidays, they can get consumer protection if something goes wrong with the purchase.

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Encouraging Gen Z to use a credit card tactically for things like transferring balances, paying off balances, and paying more than the minimum amount, can help them reduce debt and better manage cash-flow. With cards like Discover.it, or Capital One’s Journey, or Mastercard’s Aspire, young people can get cash back on things like fuel, food and utilities.

As for the workplace, some enlightened companies are running financial awareness programmes for their youngest employees, to teach them about investing, pension-payments and maximising the budget for a monthly salary.

What can Gen Z do for themselves?

  • Keep on learning and developing:

 As someone in their late teens to their early-20s, it’s essential to learn all you can. It’s kind of in the job description of people the youngest talent in the workplace. Go for a land-grab of any training that’s on offer. Ask for regular feedback and negotiate regular feedback and coaching sessions, so you can see how well you’re performing and how you can make yourself even more valuable.

But remember, it’s not just about education. It’s also about the fact that the more you learn, the more you’ll be able to boost your career potential, and your earnings. Get involved in reverse-mentoring and shadow boards too. Many older generations can ignore, or even be afraid of the power and potential of young talent. Take any opportunity to explain what life is like for you and your cohort; the pressures you face, the goals you have, the adaptability and flexibility you crave. The more you are understood and accepted, the fewer barriers you’ll face.

It’s also about the fact that the more you learn, the more you’ll be able to boost your career potential, and your earnings.

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Millennials – mid-20s to early 40s

What can older generations do for Millennials?

  • Stop with the name-calling: 

As Shiv Malik puts it “Don’t you dare call us snowflakes…don’t you dare call us pampered, avocado-eating, useless vagabond hipsters!” He’s got a point. Too many older generations are viciously rude about younger people, blithely forgetting how they felt in their youth, about politics, free-speech, free-love, global travel and all manner of good times that they’re now calling-out young people for doing. Older generations need to be far more accepting of those in their mid-20s to mid-40s who are simply maturing and experiencing their world, in strikingly similar ways to their parents.

There are differences of course.

By the mid-1980s, 50% of women had kids by the age of 30. In the mid-2020s, only 17% of women have kids by the age of 30.

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Everything costs Millennials more money now. No one is blaming older generations for this. And no one should blame older generations for having final salary pensions. That was then, when economic frameworks could support such pensions. But today, older generations need to be more adaptable and tolerant to the real-life challenges this generation is facing. That’s why they’re getting married later (or not at all) and buying properties later (or not at all).   It’s also why they’re having fewer children. By the mid-1980s, 50% of women had kids by the age of 30. In the mid-2020s, only 17% of women have kids by the age of 30.

  • Start supporting Millennials financially:

According to some research, Millennials could be shelling out 80% of their monthly salary on rent.  

What those in their mid-20s to early-40s could do with, is a bit of an economic boost. For a golden few, their career and their earnings will be stellar. For most, they could do with Boomers doing a bit of “giving while living”. Steve Webb, former pensions minister and academic says “While inherited wealth will always be welcome, it could have done more for the recipient while they were building a career, buying a home or paying for education. A cash inheritance early in their working life could make a real difference to a young person who is at the beginning of their career or looking to start a family.”

Parents can already gift £3000 tax-free to children annually. And many Boomers who have property, have found its value increasing massively over the years, which gives them a nest-egg that they could pass on to their children, to give them a bit of a leg-up. I’m not suggesting giving it all to the kids. But research has shown that most Boomers will only spend 30% of the value of their pensions or savings/investment between the ages of 70 and 90; this means there is is some additional money that could be made available to younger generations.

What can Millennials do for themselves?

  • Read the Millennial Money Masterplan: 

Written by Millennial, Matthew Smith, and published by Springtime, this book is a must for Millennials. It includes six steps to help mid-20s to early-40s, get more financial independent. 


The Steps Are...

Step 1

Tell the Trust (Be honest about where you are now financially)

Step 2

See the Future (Pain a clear picture of your financial goals)

Step 3

Avoid and Prevent Pitfalls (Avoiding traps like “lifestyle inflation” where someone earns more money but then spends more money)

Step 4

Banish Debt (Getting debt under control and paid off over time)

Step 5

Build Financial Resilience (Setting up a crisis fund and putting insurances in place for when/if things go wrong)

Step 6

Get Your House in Order (Use key financial hacks such as finding the cheapest credit, maximising pension plans, shopping around for utility bills etc).

Gen X - early 40s to mid-50s

What can other generations do for Gen X?

  • Stop thinking their silence means that everything for them is rosy: 

Just because people in their early 40s to mid-50s tend to be heads down, working and running their lives, doesn’t mean they are all fine. Research from the International Longevity Centre & Phoenix in 2021 found that one in three Gen Xers are not financially prepared for retirement, with poor or even non-existent pensions or other plans for when they can no longer earn money.

Gen X are under-contributing to defined contribution pensions. Women in this cohort are particularly vulnerable, with one in six “having no pensions savings at all”

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 According to the ILC, 46% of Gen X are under-contributing to defined contribution pensions. Women in this cohort are particularly vulnerable, with one in six “having no pensions savings at all” This is due to women being more like to take career breaks for child-rearing or caring. And women are twice as likely as men – even today – to be working part-time (26% of women and only 10% of men at this age). 

Stop seeing Gen X as having it all. They’re struggling too.

Stop ignoring the changing trends in society that have impacting their plans: 

Stop seeing Gen X as having it all. They’re struggling too.

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Gen X are impacted by changing economic trends including recessions, a rise in more part-time, zero-hours or gig economy work. They are also impacted by increasing house prices, especially for younger gen Xers (who have lower homeownership rates compared to previous generations – only 51.6% of the youngest Generation X members own their home, compared to 72.2% of the oldest).

There are also changing social trends where Gen X is more likely to have their children at home for longer, and care for older relatives who are living far longer than in previous generations, but not necessarily in good health. A Gen Xer would typically be around 52 when a 21-year-old child leaves home, whereas a Baby Boomer would be around 45. And, just like Boomers, Gen X are also living longer, but probably spending more years in poor health.

And, just like Boomers, Gen X are also living longer, but probably spending more years in poor health.

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Start providing flexibility to Gen X at work:

It’s ironic that Gen X invented work: life balance but often don’t get it. Employers who provide flexible working options for Gen X will find that they get greater loyalty and engagement. Honest and open feedback is useful for Gen X, but they don’t need it every week. Ask your Gen X workers about frequency and duration of feedback. Don’t over-schedule them with meetings, when an email, a WhatsApp or a Slack message would suffice. Gen X hate being micro-managed; tell them what you want, give them deadlines and a framework, and then let them get on with it. They’ll be happier, more fulfilled, and more productive.

What can Gen X do for themselves? 

  • Get in touch with Money Helper: This government-backed service offers 

Free guidance on saving for retirement (including for accumulation, as well as decumulation via Pensions Wise). Few Gen Xers are aware of this service, which could give them personalised advice and support in creating greater financial stability, both currently and for their future, non-earning years. 

Few Gen Xers are aware of this service, which could give them personalised advice and support in creating greater financial stability

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Baby Boomers – mid-50s to mid-70s

What can other generations do for Baby Boomers?

  • Stop labelling all Baby Boomers as rich and comfortable:

 According to research from the Centre for Ageing Better, “The richest people in their 50s and 60s today are twice as wealthy as the richest in this age group were 16 years before, while the poorest are almost a third poorer. One in five say they will be unable to meet their future financial needs in old age – with a decline in home ownership meaning that many will be unable to rely on housing assets in later life”. Gender inequality is also significant: wealth, women are approximately 10% worse off than men. BAME inequality is rife too: People from BAME groups are much less likely to be in the richest wealth group, and much more likely to be in the poorest. 17% of people from BAME groups in their 50s and 60s are unable to meet their current financial needs, compared to 5% of people from White backgrounds.  

One in five say they will be unable to meet their future financial needs in old age 

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  • Start tackling loneliness and isolation in older people:

The Centre for Ageing Better wants us all to realise that relationships are just as important as health and security as we age. At the height of the pandemic, many people in their local community suddenly remembered older, or more vulnerable people around them. They kindly connected with them – getting and delivering their shopping or having a cup of tea with them. That needs to continue – long after Covid 19 is a distant memory. As we age, others around us move away, or start dying, and our community can become diminished. According to the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents, if people who live near older Boomers, can check in on them regularly, they might just save their lives.

 If you only visited an older Boomer once a month, you’ll still make a positive difference.

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Checking whether carbon monoxide and smoke alarms are working, that boilers are serviced annually, and that elderly people know exactly who to call if they smell gas. In addition, ensuring that older people ask for identification when strangers come to the door, and know how to avoid scams on their phones or their computers may also save them from financial fraud or theft, and possible violence in the home. If you only visited an older Boomer once a month, you’ll still make a positive difference.

  • Stop assuming Boomers should retire asap:

According to Towergate research, pre Covid, Baby Boomers made up 33% of the total UK workforce. But during 2020 and 2021, something like 400,000 Boomers retired earlier than they would have done. Some lost their jobs. Some had made property money which gave them a financial boost. Others simply felt too jaded or ill to continue working.

Worse still, research by Gallup found that Baby Boomers are often overlooked when it comes to career progression and skills development. The UK’s largest investment management company Hargreaves Lansdown reports that, post-pandemic, one in 10 workers are planning to retire early compared to one in 25 workers before the pandemic.

It’s clear that Baby Boomers can and should remain in the workforce. Plus, thanks to extensive life and work experience, they possess some of the most valuable skills that businesses need. Yet they are rarely considered as being an obvious answer to skills shortages. For example, there is a well-documented, global shortage of cybersecurity skills. Research from the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) 2021 annual report on the industry reveals 50% of UK businesses lack the technical, incident response and governance skills in-house to effectively manage their cybersecurity game plan. Surely Baby Boomers could be encouraged to stay for longer in the workforce, or enticed back to be consultants or associates, even on a part-time basis?

What can Baby Boomers do for themselves?

  • Improve your physical, mental and financial heath while there is still time:

 As a generation, Baby Boomers are in their mid-50s to mid-70s and there is no reason why they shouldn’t go on working. What is against them is their own psychology, and physical wellbeing. As a cohort, who (statistically), are richer than previous or subsequent generations, it’s surprising to discover they suffer from obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), arthritis, cancer and heart disease. In addition, the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention estimates that one in six women and one in ten men who live past the age of 55 will develop dementia in their lifetime.

Worse still, Boomers drink more alcohol than any other generation – before or since. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Worse still, Boomers drink more alcohol than any other generation – before or since. 

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  • When Boomers retire:

When Boomers retire, they have an opportunity to develop a healthier lifestyle, with additional, physical activity and controlling of diet. Avoiding tobacco, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, and maintaining a healthy weight can all help, or even overcome some of these conditions, such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes. As for mental wellbeing, volunteering, or joining a community group can help retired Boomers to stay active and physically and mentally.

  • When Boomers are working:

And for those Boomers who choose to continue working, it’s going to be vital to find a routine that includes physical activity and a healthier diet. Whether working from home, in a workplace, or in a hybrid environment, Boomers can improve their physical health by working at a standing desk, taking regular breaks from computer work, and eating healthier snacks such as carrots or nuts.  As for mental wellbeing, Boomers who become internal consultants, or coaches, mentors or buddies, are not only providing education and insights to younger generations, but they are also passing on their skills, knowledge and experience, which is likely to make them feel much better about themselves.

Advice for all employers who want to reduce generational equality

What can employers do, in order to reduce generational inequality for all ages at work?

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So, what can employers do, in order to reduce generational inequality for all ages at work?

  • Build psychological safety: 

This is about feeling safe and comfortable with other people. When people at work feel they are not trusted or respected, or they worry about upsetting a difficult boss or co-workers, they won’t feel safe. Instead, they’ll feel like protecting themselves. This can lead to them not talking about what is really going on. They might cover things up, or pretend they are fine. No one wants to appear incompetent or ignorant. But we all need to feel safe if we are to share how we really feel, what we really think and what help or advice we really need at work. Here are some ways that employers can create an environment of psychological safety: -

Avoid having a blame culture:

Encourage people to ‘fess up when things go wrong and – unless it’s something criminal - acknowledge and praise the individual who does admit a mistake or a miss-hap. Encourage everyone to learn from their mistakes and to share that learning with others, so that things can be done differently or better next time. In this way, people can give and receipt transparent and direct feedback, without fear or negative reprisals or judgement.

Maximise communications:

Covid has shown us what can happen when people don’t have clear messaging, or they don’t feel they know what to do. Regular, frequent communications, whether face-to-face, or virtual, help people to feel engaged, informed, consulted, heard, and connected. Each communication doesn’t have to take long. Some organisations have daily, five-minute check-ins with their teams, monthly feedback sessions and quarterly all-hands sessions. As long as the comms are regular and with a known frequency, they will deliver value.

Encourage innovation and creativity:

When possible, look at problem-solving or incremental innovations with an open mind. Encourage people to do blue-sky thinking. And if their idea passes your in-house business case, think about doing a small pilot. When people feel their ideas are heard, they are far more likely to think outside the box in problem-solving and solutionising. And that can be wonderfully progressive for an organisation.

Introduce and live the 5 essential elements:

According to research from Gallup, five distinct statistical factors for living a better life – at work or home – have emerged. These are as follows:  

When organisations are able to support people in these five areas, it can make a huge different to individual, employee performance, productivity and commitment.

  1. Career Well-Being: This is about what work people do. When they feel they are giving value in their job, or making a difference, they feel good about working.
  2. Social Well-Being: This is all about relationships and community. When people feel they have good relationships at work and at home, they are more engaged with their colleagues, friends and family. Having friendships at work and at home, can keep you mentally engaged and fulfilled.
  3. Financial Well-Being: This is all about money. We want to earn a reasonable income and to live a life, not just struggle to exist, worrying about where every penny is going. When people have enough money, they are happier. NB: Statistically, earning more than £60K doesn’t make you any happier!
  4. Physical Well-Being: This is about how fit and physically healthy people are. We all need enough energy and ability to get things done on a daily basis.
  5. Community Well-Being: This is about your community. It might be your local community, or your working community. Either way, feeling that you belong and are part of a “family” of some kind, produces a high sense of well-being and satisfaction.

So, what now?

According to research by the International Partnerships group within the EU, “Inequality is a major obstacle to sustainable economic growth. Unlike poverty — a characteristic that can be defined at the individual level — inequality is a relational concept that refers to differences between individuals or groups and covers various dimensions”. 

These dimensions include economic, social, political, or environmental inequality – based on income, sex, disability, orientation, race, class, ethnicity, religion, opportunity, and – of course, age.

And, with every thought, word and deed, that aims to reduce any inequality, we can see that these are “Key to ensuring that no one is left behind. 

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And, with every thought, word and deed, that aims to reduce any inequality, we can see that these are “Key to ensuring that no one is left behind. It is also a necessary condition for sustainable poverty reduction and social cohesion.”

It’s true that inequality still exists across many measures, including generations. But it’s not too late to reduce that sense of inequality across all age-groups. With more awareness and insights across generational cohorts, and more engagement and partnering between different ages, it’s possible to reverse the extremes that may have been on the rise in recent years. It’s certainly worth a try, isn’t it?

About the author

Henry Rose Lee

Henry is a recognised authority on Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers in the workplace. She helps businesses to recruit, engage and retain their younger employees, and helps individuals to ignite their talents and carve out an outstanding career, whatever their age.

Through her keynote speeches, workshops and coaching, you will understand the evolution of leadership in what is sometimes called ‘the Shift Age’, so you can avoid common pitfalls and help your organisation (and yourself) to thrive.

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