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Intergenerational Learning – An Endangered Treasure In The Changing World Of Work

Written by: Teresa Hand-Campbell, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Today’s workforce comprises five generations which, when viewed by year of birth, span Traditionalists (1922-1945), Baby-boomers (1946-1964), Gen-X (1965-1976), Millennials/Gen-Y (1977-1995), and Gen Z (1996-to date). Interestingly, Gen Z and Gen Alpha will account for over 70% of the workforce by 2029. What challenges does this pose for the intergenerational transfer of knowledge and skills in the very short period remaining? If that transfer does not happen or is considered inconsequential due to the pace and urgency of the seismic change currently underway in shaping the workplace of tomorrow, are we catapulting two generations into an unknown future, ill-equipped in vital human skills while technological skills in a hybrid or distanced work setting predominate? What are the implications for the human should this scenario unfold?

Four people in a room having a meeting.

Challenges and opportunities abound and deserve our immediate attention, lest the pace of change renders that transfer of knowledge and skills impossible in such a short timescale.

  • Experience-Merge: The richness of skills and experience offered by each of the 5 generations must be captured in a synergy of collaborative teamwork for the growth of any organisation and, indeed, for the enrichment and advancement of the worker him/herself. The managerial, organisational and cyclical economic patterns experienced over time by the Traditionalists have much to offer the Millennial or Gen-Z digital natives whose ease with social media, technology and innovation can build on and extrapolate the solid foundations they have inherited.

  • Career Development across Lifespan: Work-Life balance has given way to ‘work-life integration, working anywhere, any time, on the move, as the ‘digital nomad’ experiences newfound freedom while balancing the unpredictability that it brings. The life and career development stages examined in depth by Super in the 1950’s in his Life-Span, Life-Space Theory’ lay special emphasis on the development of self-concept, which changes with new experiences across the lifespan. Super also identified six key “life spaces” which contribute to who we are, i.e., parent/homemaker, worker, citizen, leisurite, student, and child. The implication that others involved in our lives, from across other generations, impact who we are as we evolve is particularly noteworthy and takes on a new meaning in the hybrid / WFH model.

  • Elasticity: When it comes to the multi-generational workforce, perhaps Millennials are most pliable to flexible location, workspace, work hours, and timetabling. Such elasticity diminishes with age/generation, with the Traditionalist showing the most preference for set arrangements. This poses a problem in terms of accommodation of diversity in one workplace and capitalising on the synergy of 5-generations in one workspace.

  • Psychological Contract: Fielding employee expectations across the multi-generational workforce is perhaps one of the most challenging tasks of all for the modern-day employer. Security of tenure, guaranteed career progression pathway, conventional approaches to completion of tasks collide with the fluid, ever-changing corporate environment within which the Millennial thrives through innovation, expectation of flexibility and independence, often to the apparent disregard for the expertise offered by the Traditionalist.

MANAGING MULTI-GENERATIONAL TEAMS


Despite negative reportage, each generation brings a wealth of positivity to the workforce. Succession planning ensures that outgoing expertise has been captured insofar as possible and incoming potential can be expertly guided in blossoming in to their roles with ease. The giddiness of promise drives younger employees’ desire to innovate and embrace change, while their more experienced counterparts offer the wisdom of years of leadership, management, and trouble-shooting in the absence of technology. Successful companies capitalise on the synergy of skills, experience and perspectives playing to the demands of our age-diverse markets.


Capturing a ‘growth mindset’ within any organisation, aimed at the facilitation of a multigenerational meeting of minds, offers an ideal launchpad for unbridled growth and future-proofing of any organisation as we shift towards a 70% majority of Gen Z and Gen Alpha, the ‘zoomers’ by 2029.


Approaches may include but not be restricted to the following:


1. Cross-Generational Exchange: Creating the time to openly acknowledge and applaud the merits of each generation’s insights, opinions, dreams and experiences is vital in assisting employees and colleagues in sharing and merging diverse experiences which have shaped them. This wealth is wide-ranging, its synergy a powerful force for grounded advancement in uncertain times if harnessed successfully through embedded opportunities for cross-generational exchange ‒ face-to-face, virtual or blended – e.g., upbringing across the various generations, the ‘silent’ generation’s experiences of surviving challenging economic times which demanded persistence and grew resilience, the post-war ‘boomers’ experiences of recovery and productivity which bred drive, goal-orientation and self-reliance while offering opportunities to grow interpersonal communication skills and strong EQ. Meanwhile, a smaller group of ‘Gen X,’ the “latchkey kids,” bring independence and creative problem-solving, a desire to achieve work-life integration tinged with a hunger for knowledge and openness to technology blended with leadership know-how which has had its impact on the shape of the emerging workspace. Current 23-38 year olds, the Millennials, distinguish themselves through their tech savviness and an appetite for entrepreneurship. A deep regard for ESG (environmental, social and governance) features strongly in decision-making and their interpretation of ‘workforce strategy. Finally, enter Gen Z, the ‘zoomers,’ who are more tech-savvy than their predecessors and whose reliance on technology may be a source of disconnect when it comes to face-to-face exchanges. DEI, diversity, equity and inclusion are the hallmarks of their progressive social norms, as they embrace their social responsibility, independence and environmental awareness more strongly than previous generations. Learning gleaned from planned and incidental generational exchange cannot be underestimated.


2. Cross-Generation Mentorship Programmes: Top-down / Bottom-up mentorship programmes facilitate the transfer of expertise throughout an organisation and may be embedded with ease. Millennials report a preference for this approach (cf. PWC, 2017, DDI, 2021) in their quest to understand the corporate environment in which they find themselves. Strategically building relationships between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘millennials’ becomes the catalyst for the exchange of vital information and such a bi-directional flow of goodwill can accelerate an organisation’s growth while futureproofing its trajectory to success.


3. Manage Top-down / Bottom-up Expectations: Consistent evaluation of the corporate landscape through fostering a culture of open communication and information gathering from employee’s assists expectation-setting, top-down and bottom-up, thus ensuring clarity of expectations, employer-to-employee and visa-versa. Openness to ongoing learning and upskilling is pivotal to advancement, awareness and reasonable and manageable expectation-setting.


4. Inclusive Culture Building: Trust, communication and Culture are key to any organisation’s sustainability and success. Merging the fixed, rigid, routine-based approaches of the traditionalist with the flexibility and spontaneity of Gen Z becomes an ongoing, evolving endeavour which is measurable through assessment and ongoing review of workplace ‘happiness’ which is reflected in reported engagement levels and productivity.


5. Team Collaboration: It may be argued that there is more common ground than difference to be found between generations. Ageism – the discrimination against an individual on the basis of their age – comes in many forms and is not exclusively aimed at ‘elders’ must be managed. Four of the five generations have been found to share workplace values and attitudes and to favour face-to-face exchange and team collaboration. The types of behaviour in which people engage are infinite but the ranges of useful behaviours, which make an effective contribution to team performance, are finite. These behaviours could be grouped into a set number of related clusters to which the term ‘team role’ is applied.’ Team Roles, which rest on strengths counterbalanced with an ‘allowable weaknesses’ are infinitely more achievable from a diverse pool of multi-generational talent. Notwithstanding new workplace arrangements and multi-locational input, team collaboration is infinitely achievable through video conferencing and screen sharing.


MULTI-GEN MANAGEMENT – EVERYONE’S BUSINESS


In taking an overview of your current workplace, would you consider it multigenerational? If so, has these positive or negative ramifications for your organisation? How is it managed and optimised for the good of the organisation and its workforce?


It may be argued that a generational divide emerges as a result of our inability or lack of readiness to embrace change. Immunity to change is a result of perceptions of right and wrong, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, mindset, values and each generation’s experience of ‘societal norms, which are in a constant state of flux. Perhaps it is man’s insatiable appetite to advance, learn and grow that engenders intergenerational tensions. An ability to nurture inclusion and collaboration, to capitalise on discrete generational insights and knowledge, captured through mentorship and leveraging employees’ viewpoints will optimise your organisation’s growth journey and success.


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Teresa Hand-Campbell, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Teresa Hand-Campbell is the founder and Director of THC Consultancy Ltd., an Ireland-based company with a global reach. As Occupational Psychologist, Educationist, Business Executive Coach and certified Mediator, she educates, motivates and inspires her clients on their journey to achieving optimum potential.


Teresa specialises in all aspects of behaviour, relations, motivation and engagement at work, facilitating executive coaching, training, teamwork, career progression, recruitment drives, action mapping and strategic planning with organisations, large and small, across both private and public sectors. She has successfully coached over 400 Senior Executives and continues to lecture to Master's level in Leadership & Management in the Workplace. A WRAW Master Practitioner (Workplace Resilience And Wellbeing), Teresa is also a multi-science analyst using DISC and is a registered Test User (1 & 2) with the British Psychological Society.


A keynote speaker, Teresa delivers inspiring bespoke Talks and Training to audiences of all sizes around key topics of interest to the workplace.

A prolific writer, her most recent Case Study and bespoke Recommendations, entitled: ‘Building a Culture to Grow & Thrive’ was undertaken for Catalyst Clinical Research, a large, multi-award winning clinical development organisation with headquarters in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA. Teresa’s motto: ‘Knowing ME: Understanding YOU’ rests on her belief that to know oneself is to ensure a true understanding of others we come in contact with.

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