The “baby boomer” generation is often accused of having a loose – at best – grasp on technology. This, of course, is an unfair representation: the internet was still a largely unknown entity when most of the pre-1965 generation commenced their working lives. Generation Y, on the other hand, can scarcely imagine a life without it, having grown up in the digital age. More and more companies are taking steps to recognise the advantages associated with their employees’ diversity. Exploiting the advantages of this diversity and, at the same time, avoiding the associated misunderstandings and frustration, is an important task for businesses of the future. The key to success lies in facilitating networking between colleagues from different age brackets and backgrounds within the firm and allowing the exchange of opinions and information.
“Baby boomers have no clue about technology”; “Generation X (1965-1979) will do anything for money”; “Millennials don’t know how to separate their professional and private lives”. One thing is for sure: anyone seeking to understand the differences between generational cohorts in the job market today will run into more than their fair share of clichés. Although a few of these stereotypes are can be discredited from the outset, it cannot be denied that there are, typically, certain contrasts between employees from different age groups. These differences can harbour both opportunities and risks – for employee and employer alike.
Collaboration and digital affinity are more pronounced among Generations Y and Z
Studies show that professionals from Generation Y (1980-1999) network more intensively with their colleagues, take more enjoyment in collaborative projects and have a desire to carry out meaningful work. When Generation Z arrives on the job market in the next few years, such trends are set to intensify. This is the latest point at which the fusion of digital technologies and the real world seems set to become complete – since for those born after 2000, there has never been any separation. For almost their whole lives, Generation Y have known virtual platforms and face-to-face contact as two sides of the same reality. Accordingly, they want employers to recognise this fact and allow room for the possibilities that arise from it.
The knowledge and values of seasoned colleagues
Older employees, particularly those born before 1965, have different expectations. Many of them still see an individual office as an aspirational goal – both in terms of it being a status symbol and a place for independent, autonomous work. But this is not the only difference between older employees and the younger generations. Employees and managers who have been in the job market for longer are able to draw on in-depth market insights and knowledge built up over many years– knowledge that, in many cases, is accompanied by a higher degree of empathy than that displayed by their younger counterparts. Their values are also typically somewhat more conservative in nature, which can be of advantage when connecting with and understanding customers’ needs.
Harnessing the power of difference and resolving misunderstandings
When organisations fail to properly acknowledge the diversity that exists among their workforce, they risk accidentally fanning the flames of misunderstandings between employees of different generations. On the flip side, when they succeed in bringing together skilled employees of different ages, a wealth of new opportunities can result.
- Generations Y and Z expect regular feedback and are constantly seeking to develop and evolve. The chance for regular contact with experienced colleagues satisfies both of these expectations. When companies facilitate this, they can increase their attractiveness as employers.
- Many projects require a balance between experience-based knowledge, creativity and unorthodox approaches. If employees of different ages are encouraged to work together effectively, this enables new and better solutions to be found.
- The exchange of knowledge and information is an important factor in any company’s future viability.
In light of the above, companies must exert special efforts to build bridges between younger and older employees – by establishing a culture of networking, for example. Against this background, small steps often have the power to achieve more than grand but ultimately abstract concepts. Something as simple as a lunch meeting between two randomly matched colleagues of different ages could play a pivotal role in establishing an enhanced culture of cooperation.
Today, digital is (almost) everything
While some of the commonly cited differences between baby boomers, “X-ers” and “Y-ers” hold true, there is one that urgently needs discrediting: the assumption that digitalisation has passed the older generations by. For a number of years now, baby boomers and a large proportion of Generation X have been using technology and mobile devices on an intensive basis – and this applies particularly to managers and highly educated technical employees. In collaborative contexts, too, older colleagues are getting ever better at making their voices heard. Companies can use this to their advantage by offering digital platforms as a jumping-off point for real-life networking. In so doing, they succeed in connecting older generations with younger ones – and everyone benefits, including the company itself.