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Sonata Notes: Turning Workplace “Generation Gaps” into a Diversity Advantage

With Baby Boomers working into their 70s and “Gen Z” overtaking Millennials as the largest segment of the labor pool, young and old have found themselves working side-by-side as never before. But while the mass media likes to frame this trend in terms of generational differences, studies have shown that younger and older workers have far more of a common cause than a cause for conflict, and having junior and veteran staff collaborate boosts the productivity of both.

Here are five ways organizations can leverage age diversity to everyone’s advantage:

  • Buddy System: Never miss an opportunity to pair junior and veteran staff together on smaller projects, especially ones that require new ideas and creative solutions (e.g., researching new technology tools, finding new suppliers, brainstorming new product features). Just make it clear that they are jointly responsible for the project’s success, and encourage a collaborative approach.

  • Group Mentoring: When you bring on a wave of new hires, assign them to Friday discussion groups or an online discussion channel/forum moderated by veteran staff (preferably not their supervisor or anyone in their immediate working group).  Encourage the new hires to share any challenges they’re facing – from technical issues to company politics – and make it clear to moderators that anything shared is to be held in strict confidence.
  • New Talent, New Technology: If your organization is having trouble convincing veteran staff to adopt new technologies (e.g. Google Docs, Trello or Slack), consider assigning these veteran workers to a project dominated by junior team members who use the new tech extensively. To help, assign a specific junior staffer responsibility for showing the veteran the ropes.

  • Co-Create Process Documentation: Oftentimes, veteran team members invented their role back when it was new (or completely reinvented it over the years), and as a result, the only real process documentation is in their heads.  Having them work with a junior staff member to write a formal process manual and/or new hire onboarding materials can protect an organization against “brain drain” when veterans leave, give junior staff a chance to learn and also provide an opportunity to rethink your procedures and find ways to streamline or innovate key tasks.
  • Move Beyond Stereotypes: Not every young worker is an open-minded, tech-savvy go-getter and not every older worker is a world-weary, tech-challenged font of sage advice. Contrary to stereotypes, individual people can be curious or close-minded, adaptable or stubborn, inclusive or prejudiced, tech-forward or technophobic at any age. If you assume that junior staff members are unprepared to lead or that veterans cannot change, then you deny them – and your organization – the chance to reach their full potential.

If your organization is interested in developing strategies to harness the potential of all workers, feel free to contact Sonata Learning for a consultation.

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Emil Heidkamp is the founder and senior learning strategist at Sonata Learning.  He works with NGOs, corporations and government agencies to implement training and knowledge management initiatives impacting thousands of learners in over 50 countries.