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Building Bridges Across Generation Gaps in the workplace:

It goes without saying that the general demographic of today’s workforce is vastly different than it was 10 years ago. Countless employers have realized the bonuses and challenges when it comes to having workers of all ages present in the workplace. In this article we will focus on the “older” worker. In times past the older worker was seen as someone 60+ age range. Exactly who an older worker is, will depend on who you ask. The newest generation to the workforce may respond “someone in their 40’s” (gulp) or older; a worker in their 40’s may say “someone 60+;” and a worker in their 60’s they may “there is no such thing as an older worker anymore.”

The number of workers that are staying in the workforce has increased dramatically in the last few decades and shows no signs of slowing down. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated that between 1977 and 2007 the number of workers 65 years and older in the workforce increased by 101% and workers 75 years and older increased by 172% (View the Labor Statistics). This change in demographics can be for a myriad of reasons: the ever increasing cost of living, not being able to survive on one source of income (Social Security or a pension), or the need to be contributing to a group in some way. The trend will remain on the upswing, considering the effect the current economy has had on the retirement accounts of so many.

It is important for organizations to realize and address the challenges that exist in an age diverse workforce.

Below are some areas to consider when managing workers across generation gaps in the workplace:

  1. Do Not Assume. Throw any and all assumptions, biases or stereotypes you have about older workers out of the window. Treat them as you would any other employee in your organization.
  2. Know Your Team. A manager’s number one duty is to motivate their employees. It is important to know what motivates your team members, which may vary vastly between younger and older workers. Older workers may find financial planning assistance and/or a good benefits package more appealing that climbing the corporate ladder. It is also important to remember that you may have different age groups of older workers and each groups’ motivational needs may vary.
  3. Flexibility. Workers of all ages have varying needs. Some older workers may want to work the same schedule as their counter parts, while others may need flexible hours or a shorter workweek. Keeping an older worker’s talent and experience is the main objective, so work with them to determine the best way to accomplish this goal.
  4. Mentoring. As mentioned above, retaining the talent and experience of an older worker is goal #1. These workers have invaluable experience that they want to pass on. Younger members of the team need to be open to learning from older workers and should be afforded the opportunity to learn from them.
  5. Teambuilding. Treat all team members fairly and with equality, ensuring they all share the same focus of achieving the common goal. This shared focus will transcend age lines and allows for participation from all team members.
  6. Investment. It is important for all workers in an organization, regardless of age, to feel the company is interested in their success and invests in them as employees. This holds true for the older worker as well. Don’t assume because a worker is older, they are not interested in learning new things; an even worse assumption is that they are incapable of learning. Ensure all employees are trained on new technology, equipment, policies, procedures and processes. No one should be allowed to opt out of the trainings.
  7. Set Clear Expectations. Employees at all levels of an organization, regardless of age, perform more effectively when they know what is expected of them. Don’t assume that since an older worker has been in the game for longer than you that they know what you expect of them; after all, everyone has a different background. Encourage open communication amongst all team members, set clear expectations of what is to be done and deadlines for completion.

As organizations with multigenerational workforces become the norm, it is important to recognize and address the multitude of differences that exists and prepare to adapt. Ignoring these issues may work for a short period of time, but at what cost? All generations have different views and experiences, and management will need to take the initiative to create an environment that allows all workers to flourish and be productive.