Generations & the Workplace: “Now Let’s All Just Get Along!”
One of my most popular presentations explores how age differences impact workplace dynamics. So you can imagine my curiosity was piqued when I read the recent StatsCanada report announcing that for the first time in Canadian history (drum roll please!) there are more people in Canada over age 65 than there are people under the age of 15. I believe my 92 year old mother played a small hand in nudging Canada over this threshold!
So, what does this mean for Canadians? Well, for one, count on line ups at the local pharmacy getting a tad longer. More importantly StatsCan also reported that over 40% of Baby Boomers plan to work past the age of 66. True to their “live to work” reputation… some Boomers predict they will never retire!
Now, since the beginning of time, older and younger generations have had their differences when it came to matters in the workplace. And for a long time youth held the clear upper hand because strength trumped experience when it came to things like shovelling coal, digging trenches or felling tall trees.
Nowaday’s it’s just a little more complicated because of the changing nature of work in a knowledge based economy. And today we find the work force comprised of four different generations – from Traditionalists (born before 1945), to Boomers (1946-65), to Gen ‘X’ ers (1966 – 79) and Millenials (after 1980).
Predictably, the younger generations chomp at the bit to take over, implement their ideas, and adopt new ways of doing things. But what they possess in ambition they may lack in experience. Meanwhile the older generations offers their employers the benefit of experience, years of knowledge and well established networks, so it is no easy decision to hand them their gold watch and shoo them out the door.
At the same time the youngest workers offer digital skills, social media know how, and fresh ideas that can add tremendous value. Add to the mix greater diversity in gender and race, and shifting cultural norms and what are you left with? I think that if these forces are managed well, and where there is collaboration rather than competition among the generations, that the the sum of the parts is much greater than whole. Otherwise, if left to their own devices, you have a recipe for resentment and obstructed communication.
Differences in values, career expectations, communication styles and lifestyle aspirations create plenty of opportunity for misunderstanding and conflict. The tensions that arise call for greater levels of understanding, and a willingness of Boomers and Millenials to find ways to learn from each other and make workplace relationships fulfilling and productive.
How to achieve this seemingly altruistic goal? With compassion, perspective and a sense of humor we can celebrate our differences and combine our relative strengths. Diversity makes our teams stronger and we are better together!