Dec 6, 2017

Leverage and embrace age-integration in the workplace

Leverage and embrace age-integration in the workplace
BY Peggy Nordeen


Reprinted from South Florida Business Journal.

When it comes to your employees – from the youngest to the eldest – how do you keep them from rolling their eyes at each other from opposite sides of the room?

Years of research help explain the challenges. There is no doubt that young people have amazing ideas and often more opinions than older folks. There is no doubt that a Gen Zer (born in 1995 or later) who accesses an average of five screens a day can work technology better than the Baby boomer CFO who has used the same desktop software for years and watches the news every night on cable. Let’s be clear though. Gen Z knows how to work technology but maybe not so much why technology works.

Still there is also no doubt that all of our neatly labeled age groups (millennials, GenX, etc.) can contribute to the eco-system of a successful company.

The following are nuggets of the research about each age group’s strengths/weaknesses as it relates to the workplace.

Traditionalists, born before 1945, are disciplined rule-followers who respect authority, are committed to the company and are fiscally responsible. Their respectful attitude and strong work ethic can be very stabilizing.

Baby boomers, born 1946 -1964, question the status quo, are eager to experience the American dream, make money, and make a difference. Their entrepreneurial spirit can make things happen.

Gen X, born 1965-1980, are entrepreneurial like boomers, but suspicious of boomer values and seek more life/work balance. Probably not as loyal to the organization as previous generations, but they think globally and are usually very technology savvy.

Millennials, born 1981 – 1994, grew up with digital media and busy school/fun schedules planned by parents. Social, fun, self-confident, respectful of performance versus position, they have the lowest organization loyalty. Yet, they are the first generation to choose company culture and values over a higher salary, and can help the company embrace diversity.

Gen Z, born 1995 to today, plan to be more entrepreneurial, minimize college debt and find their dream job, which is where their loyalty will be. They have youthful enthusiasm, fresh ideas and crave technology.

So what is the magic sauce for mixing age groups in the workspace?

Technology weighs in. All of the generations are Facebook savvy, and Facebook is piloting Facebook Workplace. Cost of entry is a lower per-user cost depending on company size; and companies like Starbucks are using it to help their store managers cross-reference experience and ideas at least once weekly on their cell phones throughout their network.

Group conversations empower. If your company or department has fewer than 50 employees, get them physically in the same location to talk to each other about working together better.

Start by putting four index cards on the wall relating to daily work activities that say simply: Stop, Start, Keep On, Speed Up. You can have a specific subject or leave it open. Have white cards available for employees to write their suggestions, take turns reading them to the group and then tape them below one of the four cards. It’s the “continuous improvement way” used in quality improvement processes. Monthly sessions provide both social interaction and a feeling of empowerment that younger generations need.

To kick it up a notch, do an annual Agile plan using both the expertise of your marketing and HR department and representatives from each of the age groups. Focus the plan on goals to create a better, more integrated work environment from participants’ points of view. Let them focus on defining success factors, changes needed, when, where and how.

No matter the generation, all employees are subject-matter experts in “something” and helping them bring that to the table can lead to improved understanding and performance.