A friend of mine, in her 50s, started working at a distribution center a few months ago. She thought it would be a nice way to make a few extra dollars and fill some free time. The hours were flexible and the work, while monotonous, was not difficult. Her new co-workers varied in age from 18 years old to those in their 60s.
It was not entirely surprising that she mentioned people tended to groups in similar age ranges during breaks. Her direct leader was a young woman, in her late 20s, who typically had an assistant that was about the same age to manage processes. The interactions with her leaders were what I would call benign. Neither adversarial nor supportive. However, my friend described an interaction with the process assistant that was interesting.
The assistant approached my friend to ask some questions about orders that had some aspect overridden when prepared to send. This was not uncommon as part of the quality management, and it was within an area that my friend would be allowed to use her judgment. This is how the conversation went.
Assistant: I noticed that you overrode 8 orders so far today.
Assistant: That seems a little high. Can you explain why you changed them?
Friend: Uh. One had a punctured box; another was in a bag not a box. I’m not sure I remember them all.
Assistant: Well let’s look at the orders and see if you can remember. (Shows Friend her laptop screen).
Friend: (explained 5 of the 8 orders)
Assistant: You know that customers can choose how they want these orders delivered. It is our job to meet their expectations. But your reasons are good. Just make sure you follow the directions for each order.
While the words are pretty innocuous, the assistant was uncomfortable delivering the message. My friend perceived her discomfort to be somewhat condescending and wondered if it was because of the age gap or something else. While she likes the extra money, the income is not a necessity and she is now thinking about dropping her side hustle, not wanting to deal with “young people who can’t communicate respectfully.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way. In our country’s current economic state, more and more older adults are returning or are considering returning to the workforce. According to statistics presented in February by CNBC, 1 in 6 retirees are considering employment after retirement. Retirees are reported to be returning for various reasons, to stay busy, for extra income, to increase their social interactions, and others. Reportedly, many times those aged 64 years or greater are overlooked when employers fill positions.
While a multigenerational workforce can cause some unique challenges, the pros outweigh the cons. For instance, a multigenerational workforce:
Drives innovation. Younger generations tend to bring a new level of energy and excitement to the workplace, while more mature professionals have experience and depth of knowledge. When able to combine these characteristics, multigenerational teams are often more productive than their counterparts.
Provides diverse perspectives. Different generations have different opinions, life experiences, expectations, and views on how things should be done. When harnessed in a productive way, these diverse perspectives can improve brainstorming, critical thinking, analysis and ultimately, outcomes.
Enables creative problem-solving. Older workers have developed methods and strategies for getting things done, which can be a benefit, but can also lead to entrenched behaviors. Younger employees may have more enthusiasm and can be more adaptable but may be less confident in their strengths. In this situation, an age-diverse team can help push members out of their comfort zones to come up with new, and often better, ways to do things.
Encourages two-way knowledge transfer between younger and older employees. Utilizing the strengths of each generation can help in the training process for employees both young and mature. For instance, younger employees who have grown up in the “digital age” are typically more open to new technology and ways of doing things. Conversely, mature professionals can impart their specialized knowledge and industry experience. Learning from each other helps build trusting relationships allowing for successful collaboration.
Allows for unique interpersonal connections. Meaningful relationships with a variety of age groups in an organization provide a different level of emotional support for employees, and a deeper level of job satisfaction.
Ensures a comprehensive skillset. Diversity of experience, talent, and knowledge allows for a broader range of skills, possibly resulting in higher productivity.
However, if employers want a robust, ready-to-go workforce that connects across generations, they need to retool their hiring and retention practices to attract a broad range of ages. We would love to support your organization in creating a culture that embraces all ages. Please contact us for a complimentary consultation at admin@InnovativeConnectionsInc.com or call us at 970-279-3330.
Our mission is to give voice and action to an emerging future. As a partner in your success, we would love to come alongside you to help you find your voice, see your vision, and imagine what the right action could be for you, your team, and your organization.