While much of the focus on workplace issues lately seem to deal with the topics of pay equality, gender, and race, there is another reality in today’s workplace – outside the family farm, there has never been a wider inter-generational gap between the oldest and youngest workers in most organizations.
According to the latest reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the fastest growing segment of the workforce is 65 and older. (https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2017/article/older-workers.htm) People are working longer, so the gap is only going to get wider.
The stereotypes abound.
Younger generations feel dismissed by older generations. They assume they are thought of as less dedicated and naïve because of different working styles and priorities. Older generations are thought of as out of touch, slow, and stuck in their ways. Blame is pointed across generational boundaries.
While this presents many challenges, it also holds rich opportunities.
There are so much experience and wisdom in older employees. They have been in the workplace for longer, so they’ve seen more business cycles. They’ve likely experienced many management styles. It’s up to the organizational leadership to create an environment where older workers feel appreciated and their experience is tapped.
Younger team members bring enthusiasm and often a “nothing is impossible” attitude that hasn’t been tempered by failure. They work differently than older generations and have different priorities. However, the energy and fresh perspectives they bring help keep the organization from getting stale.
Here are 3 things you can do to create inter-generational bridges to make everyone feel valued in the organization.
1. Events that Shaped a Generation
For your next team-building activity (you are doing these, aren’t you?) break your workforce into teams by generations. Assign a different generation to each group. The assigned generation should be different than the generation of the group. The groups then research the stereotypical behaviors of their assigned generation along with major events that happened while that generation was in its teens and twenties. After the groups have had 10 to 20 minutes to do their research, the groups interview their assigned group to ask how those events impacted their view of work and life.
Create a mentoring program in your organization. This doesn’t have to be older employees mentoring younger employees. If you have older employees new to the team, assign one of your younger leaders as a mentor. If you don’t already have mentoring training in place, you will need to do some workshops, but this is a great way to create inter-generational communication and friendships.
3. The Team Effectiveness Exercise
We all want to feel valued. If you have the right people on your team, they want to be sure they aren’t intentionally doing something that holds the organization back. The “Team Effectiveness Exercise” is a great exercise I encourage my clients to do it at least twice a year within their functional teams. Here is how it works.
First, everyone takes a moment to write down the trait or behavior they admire most about each person on the team. Next, they write down one thing each team member could do more of, start doing, or stop doing that would bring the most value to the entire team or organization. Yes, I know. The second one is more difficult. Honestly is essential. You want the feedback to be valuable.
Once everyone has written answers, the team agrees on who will go first. That person is “in the hot seat.” The person in the hot seat is not allowed to speak except to say “Thank you” or to ask clarifying questions. The team then takes turns telling the hot seat team member their answers to the question of what they most admire about that person. After everyone has shared that, they go around the circle again sharing one thing that person could do to help the team. Again, the person in the hot seat can only say “Thank you” or ask a clarifying question. You can find detailed instructions here.
Leading and managing a generationally diverse workplace takes intentionality.
However, it’s the reality of the modern workplace. It’s up to the leaders of the organization to make everyone feel valued and create effective teams.