Can Multigenerations Coexist in the Workplace? Part 3
Blending in the Workplace
Can the 50-plus generation and millennials coexist in the workplace? Absolutely. And as argued in part two of this series, companies benefit from a mix of generations. Older generations bring experience, wisdom and “history.” Millennials bring technological expertise, new perspectives, and understand evolving social needs and wants. Research suggests that companies that figure out how to integrate multigenerations are likely to be more successful than those that don’t and will reach a wider audience while staying ahead of trends. “We have new guys who are smart, but they just don’t have the experience. Having someone around they can ask questions of is a big benefit,” says Roger Locy, a near 70-year-old who has worked in nuclear power since 1966.
In addition, research shows older workers are looking for social relationships, and the workplace provides them. Peter Cappelli, director of the Wharton School’s Center for Human Resources, believes it's best to keep diverse age groups mingled in the office. Mixed age groups tend to get along and perform better than groups of the same age. Even more important, the older worker is not in competition with a 25-year-old.
Successful integrations of generations depend on a variety of factors. The older employee cannot be a “luddite” and unwilling to change. Flexibility is key, as well as moderated patience. The older worker tries to understand what motivates a millennial and find ways to impart his/her wisdom in ways that translate to a younger employee’s language. In many cases imposing traditional structure on a younger workforce just doesn't work.
However, we argue that some structure is necessary to avoid chaos. Understanding the right mix is key. Millennials and baby boomers also have different ideas about the benefits found in the workplace. It’s always nice to have a “fun” environment, though this must be in context to the type of business/industry. And what constitutes as “fun” for a 30-year-old often differs from a 60-year-old.
An advertising agency moved to a new location and wanted to create a fun environment that was different from its previous traditional office space. It created a mostly open environment with a basketball court, bright colors and small kitchen. All of this was fine except the CEO “expected” basketball games mid-day sometimes resulting in younger workers having to stay late to get their work done. The employees felt obligated to play even when they weren't that interested and gradually resented the interference with their departure time. The CEO was coming from a boomer mind-set, trying to be “contemporary.” This CEO didn't really understand the millennial mind-set, and significant turnover was the result.
The point of all this is that an age blended workforce is, in fact, richer and more likely to be successful. There are some exceptions to this, but in this ridiculously fast-paced society we live in, we need the mix of experience and “history” of our older generations and the new thought processes and behavior of younger generations. Both benefit from understanding and learning from each other. We coach millennials who are entering and navigating the workplace and find them to be receptive and interested, but the language and approach differs. Success depends on understanding this and implementing an appropriate mix with an open mind and an expectation of adventure.