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Building an intergenerational workplace can bring many benefits, including increased diversity of thought, access to different skill sets and experience and a richer understanding of the needs and perspectives of different age groups.
These benefits enable you to better serve clients, engage more effectively with consumers and strengthen your ability to recruit and retain new talent.
The nine keys I am recommending will have a wider impact on other aspects of your workplace culture with much broader benefits.
1 – Open and Inclusive Culture
You need to establish an open, inclusive culture where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas and perspectives. This will help build understanding and respect between different generations. The AQai.io adaptability assessment specifically measures these environmental drivers of individual, team and organisational adaptability. Developing an open and inclusive culture will also improve your adaptability.
2 – Continuing Commitment to Training and Development
One of the key things that people complain about as they enter into the later years of their working life is the diminishing opportunities for training and development. By providing training and development opportunities to people of all ages, you can build a more powerful intergenerational workforce. Company members of every age will develop new skills, improve their performance and feel valued.
3 – Two-way Mentoring
One of the great powers of an intergenerational workplace is the opportunity to provide a cascade of mentoring from older people, generation by generation, to the youngest recruits. But, equally powerful, is reverse mentorship which pairs younger people to support older people, will bridge generational gaps, bring new perspectives and develop new ways to work across the generations. I saw the power of this at first-hand when, during the dot.com boom in the years leading up to 2000, senior professionals at Andersen needed to understand the perspectives of the emerging internet generation to respond to their clients’ desire to www everything.
4 – Flexible Working
In an intergenerational workforce, you will see that at different life stages, people need to have different access to flexible working. You will struggle to sustain an intergenerational workplace if you expect everybody, throughout their working life, to have the same ability to commit all of their lives to work. A new graduate may have very few commitments beyond their immediate career ambitions. On the other hand, working parents are often juggling childcare with work. Later still, employees in their fifties may have care responsibilities for their own parents or a second family. Aged 60 plus, part-time working may be key to continuing in employment into the 80s. Flexible working policies will also embrace many of the other non-age related life events such as returning to education or volunteering.
5 – Celebrating Diversity
Acknowledging diversity is different from celebrating diversity. When you recognize that people of different ages are bringing different aspects of their whole selves to work, you can be intentional about engaging and celebrating differences. This strengthens a culture of inclusivity and respect across your organisation and will enable an intergenerational workforce to develop and thrive.
6 – Identifying Bias
We all carry bias and rely on stereotyping people of different ages. By strengthening awareness of stereotyping and bias, whether conscious or unconscious, you can more easily have important conversations which allow these issues to be addressed.
7 – Intergenerational Diversity Training
There is a clear precedent in other areas where people look at diversity and inclusion, to challenge attitudes and behaviours with training. One of the things that the Black Lives Matter Campaign has helped us to understand is that the ordinary language that people use can introduce microaggressions that diminish and marginalise people. These microaggressions can serve to reinforce cultural tropes that pervade our discourse. How often have you heard the phrase ‘having a senior moment’ used to excuse forgetfulness by individuals in their mid-forties? Would it be acceptable to use the gender-specific phrase ‘menopause moment’ instead?
8 – Policies and Procedures
Underpinning all this, you need to have clear policies and procedures, that apply to all employees regardless of age. However, if you carefully structure these they can be sufficiently flexible to address the evolving needs of employees at different life stages. For example, many organisations provide parental leave, irrespective of gender. Others have extended this to include grandparents. Eligibility is defined by relationship status, not age even though it’s unusual for people to become grandparents in their mid-thirties.
9 – Tone at the Top
Finally, be aware that the attitude and tone of senior leaders, will set the bar for the rest of the organisation. If the only occasion on which older members of the staff team are celebrated is when they retire and all other recognition is reserved for fast track young professionals this reinforces age stereotypes. Promotion based on time served is ageist and probably illegal.
Senior leaders don’t necessarily have to be older leaders. Indeed, some organisations have deliberately chosen to increase their employee and customer representation at board level by drawing on people from different life stages. There are some obvious examples: many universities appoint student governors and many schools establish a student council.
The way forward is to bring diversity and inclusion best practice into the arena of age equality.
Building an intergenerational workplace is becoming more and more important for organisations, communities and economies that enable everybody to thrive.
But it does require intention, it does require leadership and it does require persistent training and leadership initiatives to make it the priority it deserves.
Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.