Spring chickens and old dogs – generations working together

About 150-200 years ago when people died at a younger age (around 40-60) and the yearly technical advancement wasn’t that significant, it didn’t cause any problems for generations to work together. It was obvious that everyone starts at the bottom at a young age and works him/herself up on the ladder by learning and perfecting the tricks of the given profession that he/she learned from the master. But nowadays at the beginning of the 21st century, when people live about 80-100 years in good health and enjoy the benefits of the rapidly changing technical advancement, at least 3 generations are working together.

New companies (start-ups) like mushrooms growing out from the field every day and it’s not unambiguous anymore who’s managing who, just by looking at the colleagues’ age. Is there a chance for young ambitious greenhorns and old experienced sea dogs to work together in harmony?

What the advantages can be of different age groups working together? Let’s take two generations: baby boomers and millennials, or let’s put it this way: grandparents and grandchildren working together. Baby boomers are the ones who are expected to retire during the upcoming 5-15 years, but some of them just won’t: they cannot afford the financial cut that retirement means or just simply enjoy working and don’t want to sit around feeling being useless. Millennials are the ones who are just coming out of school, don’t really have any work experiences but think they know everything about the world as they are hanging online 24/7.

How a workplace can benefit from their differences?

  • Diversity of skill sets: while the baby boomers already spent decades on learning what works, the millennials brain isn’t wired yet, they don’t know what doesn’t work. Younger generation can be more optimistic while looking for a solution using their technical expertise but might need them some help when it comes to traditional in-person communication. Older colleagues might have an intangible wisdom that comes from living through and forming projects, experiences and relationships, while their younger colleagues are full of zest and willing to work long hours in intense focus.
  • Technological knowledge: it’s not all about the touchscreen, as might happen that a company’s key machine contains such elements that were manufactured decades ago – those have to be refurbished as well. Especially nowadays when everyone burns in the fever of retro. It’s all about being recipient for each other’s expertise and technical knowledge: yep, it might be hard to understand for a youngster what an old dog doesn’t get about how to use eg. social media, but all it takes is patience.
  • Communication: while members of the younger generation may have a good working knowledge of how to reach potential customers using the advantages of world wide web, until then mature colleagues might have experience in traditional business approaches preferred by customers of older generation. Understanding and using workplace politics and diplomacy evolves through years of experience.
  • Two-way street through mentoring: in traditional mentoring situations typically the older employee mentors the younger one, because traditionally older meant senior as well. Nowadays, when young millennials start their own businesses might happen that they hire employees of the older generation because of their expertise. Still, as the young and ambitious managers know how and to which direction they want to lead their company, they must train, mentor and coach their older subordinates.
  • Maintaining history: it takes generations (or at least one) to build up the history of an organization. If there’s only a few people to whom the older ones can pass along the things they’ve learned and experienced it’s risking the closing down of the company once everyone is retired.

Here’s a short summary of the characteristics of different generation groups at the workplace:

Have you seen the movie: The intern? It might be cursory and a chick flick, but some of its scenes show exactly what I wrote above. Check this scene out for example:

This generational difference and conflict also appears at the Turul Winery. There’s Ellen, one of the oldest employee of the winery who has been working there for over two decades and knows its history and tradition by heart. Might happen that she is not perfect sales and marketing person anymore, but should her experience be thrown out of the window just because of her age? Aren’t there any other departments where she can utilize her knowledge?