The cross-generational challenge
The workplace of the last thirty years has seen change on a huge scale; one not witnessed since the last industrial revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This has perhaps accentuated the differences between the generations most prominent in the workforce today.
Baby Boomers grew up in a different world altogether, where computers were an emerging technology that had only begun to impact on humanity. Generation X (see box for definitions) were early adopters of the Internet but differ still from Generation Y who have never experienced a life totally offline. Not far behind, Generation Z are coming from a world more complex and all-consuming than ever before.
Importantly, each generation of workers has their own valuable set of skills and perspectives to offer. Yet it seems that the differentials, and the attendant conflicts that may arise, are often exaggerated.
Cegos Asia Pacific recently conducted a survey to establish the 5 key drivers for success as we head to the 2020s workplace. The fifth of these addresses The Broadening Cross-Generational Challenges, where we found that a significant number of people are aware of cross-generational issues, but disagree that they are problematic or get in the way of progress.
Indeed, a large number of companies are successfully managing their cross-generational workforce in variety of creative ways.
Here are three areas where companies are bridging the cross-generational divide.
1. Having multiple modes of learning that appeal to different generations
Most people these days have some level of technical skill. Even those born into a world where the iPad and laptop were the stuff of fiction know how to use a smartphone or navigate the Internet. It would be patronising to pretend otherwise.
Yet there is a real need now to engage people across the generations by using the latest technology and modes of communication. This is particularly important in the arena of learning and development, where technology can add variety and the kind of training customisation that younger generations expect.
One example of a hybrid of traditional and modern learning styles is called Adventure Learning, defined as “providing students with opportunities to explore real-world issues through authentic learning experiences within collaborative online learning environments.”
2. The use of open space and work stations that encourage collaboration
Creative work spaces within offices encourage people, regardless of age or rank, to work together in an informal environment. Breaking down the barriers of cross-generational communication prevents the creation of so-called ‘human silos’, where different generations of workers are isolated from each other, particularly in terms of rank, as was the case in days gone by.
3. Cross-generational mentoring
Top-down mentoring is a well-established concept and has been proven to be successful. What is less prominent, but equally successful, is the notion of reverse mentoring, whereby a worker from the younger generation mentors a higher-ranking senior in their area of expertise.
Commonly, a younger mentor will share knowledge and experience of emerging digital trends, allowing the older mentee to keep abreast of the latest tools available, and helping the company develop capabilities that keep it modern and relevant.
In the old days, hierarchies within companies were often very rigid. Those at the top rarely communicated with those below them, unless they had to deliver a missive that the younger set would obey. That model was fine for its time, but arguably has been improved upon today.
With sophisticated communication tools at our disposal, and an environment of more openness and transparency that comes with it, people from all walks of life can learn from each other, and there is no shame in doing so. Many Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers, for instance, would readily admit that those in Gen Y and Z are more technically adept, especially with social media.
So it makes perfect sense to adapt to the new ways of managing the different generations in a spirit of working together, rather than dispassionately as in days of yore.
GENERATION X: Born 1966-76; often characterised by high levels of scepticism and what’s in it for me attitudes. Arguably the best educated generation to date.
GENERATION Y: (AKA MILLENIALS) Born 1977-94; in many countries the largest cohort since the Baby Boomers, Gen Y kids are perceived as sophisticated technology-wise, and immune to many traditional marketing and sales pitches. More racially and ethnically diverse, and a more segmented audience.
GENERATION Z: Born 1995 onwards; growing up in a highly diverse environment with higher levels of technology, expect customised instruction and a constantly changing environment.