The working world is in a moment of extraordinary generational change.
Baby Boomers (a generation 76 million strong) are reaching the traditional retirement age, but many are continuing to work well into their 60s and 70s (and sometimes beyond). At the same time, Millennials (a generation 80 million strong) are advancing in their careers and beginning to take on leadership roles at their companies. Add in the Gen Xers (those in their mid-30s and 40s), and for the first time, we’re seeing a workplace full of three generations.
And this mashup, in many cases, has caused a good deal of friction. Millenials are often frustrated by their older co-workers’ late adoption of technology and social media, while Boomers complain that Millennials demand success from day one, eschewing the need to “earn” respect, responsibility, or perks. Baby Boomers tend to be more loyal to their employers, having grown up in a world where most people spent an entire career at one company, while Gen Xers and Millennials grew up surrounded by downsizing and outsourcing and therefore feel more like free agents.
It’s hard to miss the talk about this generational tension these days, but there’s some good news, too: The recent 2013 Benefits for Tomorrow Study done by The Hartford found that almost nine in 10 Millennials (89%) agree that “Baby Boomers in the workplace are a great source of mentorship” and that 93% of baby boomers agree that “Gen Yers bring new skills and ideas to the workplace.” In other words, we recognize the value of having various backgrounds and perspectives in the same office—we just have to take advantage of it.
No matter what group you fall into, try these three tips to help you not just withstand the office generational mashup, but benefit from it.
1. Consider Co-mentoring
It’s obvious that co-workers of different generations offer each other the chance to learn new and varying skills—for instance, younger workers can offer senior staff members tips and knowledge on technology, and senior workers can share deeper industry knowledge or offer advice on negotiation and benefits.
The trick is bringing people together and giving them opportunities to share that knowledge. Traditional mentorship relationships can work well here, but one company I’ve worked with had a “buddy” program, pairing new employees of all ages with an employee who had been at the company just a year longer. The more senior employee could show the new employee the ropes, and the new employee’s role was to share fresh ideas and an outside perspective. It was a great way to share knowledge outside of the traditional age- and experience-based mentor-mentee relationship—and it allowed all employees to work better together.
2. Create a Multi-Generational Advisory Board
Even if your office doesn’t have a formal mentorship or buddy program, make it a priority to spend quality time with your managers, colleagues, or clients of other generations and perspectives. I even recommend forming an informal group of “advisors”—a group of people from different generations (and departments and backgrounds, too) who you can go to for advice or career decisions. Whether you’re managing difficult people, trying to understand team dynamics, or positioning yourself for a big promotion, you can make more informed choices when you have a variety of data points and perspectives to consider. Not to mention, it’s a great way to build relationships across your organization.
3. Tout Yourself as a Resource
Finally, think outside of what your generation is known for, and recognize unique skills you can offer your company and demonstrate your expertise. If there’s a topic—social media, doing business in Asia, marketing to the Hispanic community, Excel calculations—that you have a particularly strong understanding of, make sure to let your co-workers know you can answer their questions on that topic. Being the go-to person on an important subject is a great career differentiator, and it can help you develop relationships at all levels of the organization, even beyond your immediate work team.
No matter what generation you’re in, you can expand your industry knowledge and skill set by connecting and collaborating with co-workers at different levels. I think you’ll find that the office generational mashup is more harmonious and beneficial than you might think!
Photo of people working courtesy of Ryan McVay / Photodisc / Thinkstock.