Our workplaces are getting both older and younger. On the older side, work keeps us connected, stimulated and learning, and for this reason many older people are choosing to keep working later in life, beyond the traditional retirement age of 60.
For others, working later is not a choice – if you can’t afford to retire, you have to keep working. On the younger side, there are more opportunities for internships and apprenticeships now, bringing younger employees in to learn on the job earlier. These demographics combine to give us the first four generational workforce in working history, starting with Gen z (up to the age of 24), Millennials (25-40), Gen X (41-56) and Boomers (57-75).
Bigger companies in particular are now a hotchpotch of generational cultures that can be difficult to manage. Like any culture clash, intergenerational working is bound to throw up some issues. Gen X have long stereotyped millennials as being entitled, Millennials assume older colleagues are unable to grasp technology, and Gen Z enter the workforce ready to take all their colleagues to task on ethical issues.
To prevent conflict and enhance the benefits of intergenerational working, we need to help people to value the complementary skills each brings to the table, rather than allowing their differences to become more entrenched. More than ever we need to enable different generations at work to understand and appreciate each other’s strengths, and agree to work better together to make the most of the different generations on the team.
Celebrating age diversity
Research shows that diversity of any sort makes teams perform better, and an intergenerational workforce can bring real strengths. Older team members have valuable life experience and advice to give, and younger team members bring digital native skills and raise awareness of important issues like environmental impact and unconscious bias to the benefit of everyone.
However, different generations are bound to bring different beliefs and behaviours to work. When we come from different backgrounds, we may not agree on the right ways of working well together, or even interpret each other’s behaviours in the right way. Building a positive culture in an intergenerational team requires deliberate and open discussion.
Deliberately agree rules of engagement
Every age diverse team needs to consciously decide how they want to create a positive working culture, with agreed rules of engagement that suit the individuals in that team.
When you deliberately discuss your rules of engagement, you may find that the Millennial in the team doesn’t want to be the team’s IT support person all the time, or you may ask the Boomers to stop getting so upset about misuse of apostrophes, so long as communication is clear and professional otherwise.
In a world where we (quite rightly) look more towards recruiting, developing and supporting younger team members, let’s not forget that we also need to keep supporting all ages in their work experience. We have a duty to our older employees as well as our younger ones, to make sure all the generations at work benefit from the sharing of skills and experience, and bring the variety of perspectives that make for better decision-making.
Age diversity is going to become increasingly more important and more visible in future, so let’s give ourselves the permission to openly talk about how we want to work together better, to make sure we benefit from all the generations we have at work.
About the author
Pam Hamilton is the author of Supercharged Teams: 30 Tools of Great Teamwork which contains specific tools for you to use to set out your email etiquette, agree rules of engagement, and build your trust and teamship. Take her free team assessment to rate the performance of your team and find out which chapters and tools will best suit you.
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