Are you missing the power of your multi-generational workplace?
Can we talk about people over the age of 24, who for ease of reference, from this point onwards I’ll refer to as ‘old people’. I don’t do this to be rude, instead, I’m adopting the position of many Gen Z targeted pieces which imply the over 24’s are past it. I concede that us ‘oldies’ may prefer table service to fighting for space at the bar, but we’re definitely not past it. And with limited talent to go around – I think you can still find some value. 😉
I work with organisations to help them get the most value from the talent within their multi-generational workforce. In recent years, perspective has unintentionally adopted an unconscious bias to attribute innovation to younger generations, missing the power embedded within their established workforce. Through my work, I encourage organisations to get back that lost power, creating strategies that adopt a learning organization mindset, consciously building diverse teams, and changing the rhetoric to remove bias.
The power you lose
I totally get these pieces are taking a crowd-pleasing position, but there are two things that the ‘old people are stupid’ vibe isn’t helpful with.
- The obvious one is that they’re not inclusive which means you miss out on a huge talent pool. Age shouldn’t be something we discriminate against either in language or practice and why cut your talent pool down by such a huge margin?All your value doesn’t sit in one age band.
- They ignore life stages. Everyone changes as they go through life and identity evolves with a particular force in early adulthood. What is very important to be aware of, is that at this identity forming stage role models are so important in shaping our identities. So, is it right to encourage a rhetoric that positions older people as has beans? And what wider workplace behaviours and practice does that give permission to?
This excellent post by Don Denoncourt (which btw is also great advice on how to stay relevant as you age) notes that the average age of a worker at Facebook is 28, LinkedIn 29 and Google 30. Compare that to the average age of all U.S. workers which is 42 and you have to wonder what causes that difference. I particularly want to mention this quote from Don’s post to illustrate the impact leadership has on an organizational mindset:
“…Mark Zuckerberg once publicly said, at an event held at Stanford: “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.” “
Interesting to consider alongside this NY Times piece on how Facebook is setting it’s job ad filters to age 25 – 36. In just 3 years’ time would mean Mark Zuckerberg himself would never see that job ad which would be such a foolish move. Given Mark Zuckerberg is now 33, it will be interesting to see how his identity will cope with ageing. Leadership sets the tone for the culture so it’s important to get it right.
Do we get better with age?
People do change as they get older, some things may decline but some things get better. Here’s a few things we know get better with age:
- Emotional intelligence
Empathy develops with age and empathy is highly valuable for a world of customer centered design. How many young people do you know who are good at relating to people outside of their own age group? Research backs this up. Experiments to measure how well people can evaluate emotions by looking at someone’s eyes peaks at 40 staying stable for about the next 20 years.
Innovation is better with a diverse mix of people. Young people have grown up with the tech, they bring the power of what tech can do and their minds are fresh. But young people have a finite set of reference points anchored in their own age group. Having a more diverse team creates a bigger more complete picture.
Experience is still worth a lot. The CIO who has worked in five companies and has five cultures to draw on can definitely offer different perspectives and compliment (and challenge) the power of young minds.
The world is changing
Change is happening fast. But the world is changing for everyone – regardless of what age you are, and change is not the property of any age group. Here are some things we’re all working out.
- Top jobs aren’t based on years anymore.
Jobs for life are gone, careers aren’t linear anymore and with the loss of career ladders we all need to learn to work in teams not shaped by hierarchy.
Which means organisations need to help employees adjust to that new way of being and help employees find value and self-esteem in those different ways of working.
- We’re more socially aware than we were before.
Which is hopefully making us all more socially responsible than we were 10 years ago with values more important to the choices we make. We are all looking for more meaning, work life balance and to make the world a better place.
Organisations need to get their Employer Brand and underpinning policies right to authentically appeal across all generations, conveying those values that are the core of their culture.
- Tech is changing things fast.
People of all ages are finding new ways to use tech and none of us can stay up to date with it all. The tech experts we have today haven’t grown up with self-driving cars or robots, but their children will. And as such tech experts will change soon too.
What that means for organisations is putting in place mechanisms to allow people to keep learning new skills and help each other learn. Being a learning organization is vital in such an ever-changing environment.
- We work different.
Tech also means we can work anywhere which makes the world smaller and more mobile. Co-working offices, remote working, blogging, YouTubers and other different models, bring a wider variety of ways to ‘work’.
Organisations need to embrace this and have virtual and remote working policies that work for both sides. They will increasingly need to adopt different worker models to allow them to get the most value from working with people who don’t want to follow the old model of being ‘an employee’ and get the full power from a more trusted network model.
Let’s watch how we talk
There is a generation coming up behind today’s bright young things, for whom tech will be even more automatic – let’s teach them and everyone in the workplace how to recognise the power of age diversity. After all, if we make it OK to write off ‘older’ generations then eventually we’re all doomed. Here are a good few things to keep in mind when thinking about talent in the workplace.
- Tech is a teachable skill.
Learning organisations make the most of talent and equip employees with as much knowledge as possible quickly.
- Be aware of the danger of self-fulfilling prophecies.
Common talk often ends up self-fulfilling. The mind is a powerful thing and if young people start talking like old people are dinosaurs that will have a huge influence. And if old people think they are past it then they stop exercising the creative muscles. Muscles need to be challenged and exercised to stay alive. Keep everyone in the game and check that your narrative isn’t working against anyone.
- Take responsibility as you are shaping our future.
It’s the workplace’s responsibility to avoid age bias. As this article discusses, organizations are increasingly asking algorithms to weigh in on questions that have profound social ramifications in the hope of removing human bias which is great. But our attitudes can make their way into the tech and this makes the people writing the code and designing the machines hugely influential. This Guardian article is fascinating food for thought on how we’re unconsciously building gender bias into robots. How we think will affect how we design the future so let’s not think in an ageist way as the impact of that is far more widespread than we may realise.
- Make building great teams a priority
Organisations need to build teams that combine the best of all ages. Diverse teams are best. An innovation team that is entirely made up of one age group is missing a trick as is a workforce that is skewed to any one generation.
About the Author
I help organisations understand what they need to do to transform employees to new digital working practices. From recognising the scale of change required for each employee group, to communicating a simple change narrative in order to achieve buy-in and finally delivering the mechanisms that guide your teams through the change journey effectively. If you would like my help or you are interested in collaborating on something then please get in touch.
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