In our current litigious business environment, it can be difficult to consider the age factor during change. Change is often difficult on older workers. Management asks them to consider new skills, work with younger and more culturally diverse co-workers, and tolerate the different work habits of younger workers. If older workers do not respond, labor laws make it tricky to effectively deal with it. Younger workers often embrace change more easily, but that should not be assumed.
There is unique value in both older and younger workers. In both cases, management must build trust and help each worker embrace change regardless of their age. The key is not to manipulate people based on age generalizations, but to see each person as a valuable contributor to the organization and help them appreciate age differences.
This is the eighth blog in my series, Building Trust and Embracing Change. In this blog, I want to emphasize the need for change in the context of age. People change more easily when they see the need for change. With age comes stability and often eliminates one’s need for change. Youth brings another challenge. The world is an opportunity with few restraints. Their idealistic, and sometimes fanciful ideas, often seem like a waste of time or wishful dreaming by older and wiser people. You will not find opportunity analyzing or complaining about age differences, but rather understanding the unique characteristics of each generation. I believe the key is to join these workers together and combine the idealism of younger workers with the wisdom of older workers, out of which emerges mutual understanding and opportunity.
One major need in today’s workplace is effective communication between generations. Learning about generational differences is an important first step, but not completely adequate. We need to improve communication beginning with an understanding of the fears and challenges each generation faces with the intent of learning from and serving one another. I want to consider each group adding some general observations to help us consider the age factor for each generation. Please feel free to add comments below regarding your observations. Here are mine:
The youngest generation in the workplace: The Millennials Their idealism is for the broader good. They want to make a significant contribution improving the plight of people or achieving a worthy cause. They do not see obstacles as cause killers, just something to overcome through mobilization and engagement. Change is easy and desirable as long as they believe in the reason for the change. Their individualistic approach can appear arrogant to non-millennials.
The next generation in the workplace: The Xers Also known as Generation X, is the smallest generation and often feels overlooked. Even the physiologists and sociologists who name generational cohorts failed to come up with a good one for them. They tend to be the most skeptical generation and must overcome embedded doubts about any change. They desire authenticity and will commit themselves to change if you win their loyalty. Their skeptical approach can appear detached to non-Xers.
The older generation in the workplace: The Boomers This generation dominates the highest levels of the workplace. If they have not achieved their professional aspirations, their commitment may have shifted from following the company line to cautious and measured loyalty. Due to layoffs, canceled pensions, pressure from technological change, and younger workers, they face increasing pressures. They bring a wealth of wisdom and must decide if they are going to share it or not. Change becomes more difficult as they hang on for retirement and are often the most resistant to change. Many plan to remain in the workforce longer because they are not able to retire or simple love to work. Their dominant presence can appear selfish by non-boomers.
The oldest generation in the workplace: The Silents There are fewer and fewer of them in the workplace as all qualify for some form of pension, retirement plan, or government payouts. Some still have to work and many enjoy working. Most are able to approach work with a take-it-or-leave-approach because they do not depend upon the income. Overall, they are loyal, show up, and work hard. Their work ethic is strong and those who choose to remain in the workforce enjoy work and being around other people. Their loyal approach can appear irrelevant to non-silents.
Valuing each person as individuals and working to improve communication across each generational cohort will allow companies to leverage the ideals of youth and wisdom of age. We need to consider the factor of age, but never allow it to become an excuse. We need to learn from and leverage these differences in a way that will help each person embrace change.
What is your biggest challenge when working with co-workers from different generations?