For the first time in U.S. history, there are four generations in the workplace. This is a daunting fact given the changes we’ve all seen in the workplace in the course of our working lives. As the baby boomers creep closer to decisions about retirement vs. continued work, Randstad, the fourth-largest staffing company in the world, conducted a survey to find out about how those boomers are getting along with their younger coworkers.
According to their findings, while 75 percent of older workers (55 and up) said they relate well to younger coworkers, only 56 percent of younger working adults said they relate well to older colleagues. And the percentage of those age 18 to 34 was two points lower. In addition:
• Only 20 percent of working adults age 54 or younger believe older colleagues energize them and bring new ideas to the table. And 77 percent of older workers reported younger people don’t seek their advice and guidance.
• While 90 percent of working adults said people over age 50 are “with the times,” 70 percent also said they don’t think their company values older workers.
Among workers 55 and over, 43 percent reported that they learn from younger coworkers; by contrast, 64 percent of employees age 18 to 34 said they learn from older colleagues. Digging deeper into the survey reveals that in spite of the large percentage of working adults who don’t think their companies value older workers, more than half (58 percent) of workers 55 and older say their company treats employees of all ages fairly and their organization does value workers over age 50 (54 percent).
A multigenerational workplace can be mutually advantageous for employees and employers alike. Many of the advantages may not be readily apparent; however, the synergy of ideas and insight younger and older workers jointly bring to the table can be tremendous. These advantages don’t come into play without active communication, which gets them closer to the same page.
Right now, about 12 percent of working adults are 55 or older, a percentage that will climb to 20 percent—or about 30 million employees—by 2015. Here are a few tips to foster intergenerational communication:
• Establish a series of mentorships that pair older workers with younger ones. Encourage pairs to meet at least monthly for a year or more to work on career goals set by the younger workers.
• Create focus groups of mixed generations to brainstorm ideas about achieving company objectives.
• In populating ongoing project teams, strive for age diversity as well as diversity of levels, race, and gender, in addition to appropriate functional and departmental representation.
• Design benefits to include options that may be attractive to older workers. For example, offer new hires age 45 and up with lots of work experience more than the usual one week vacation. Older workers tend to value vacation more than younger ones, so give them a bonus. Consider one-month paid sabbaticals for older employees with more than five or six years’ service.
• Make it easy for older workers to obtain either in-house or external training in new technologies or methodologies.
• Facilitate “phased retirement” for older workers who want this option. Encourage part-time work, job sharing, consulting arrangements—anything that will allow veteran employees to cut back some while still contributing their knowledge and energy to colleagues and the company.
While these are but a few suggestions on bridging the generations in the workplace, there have been numerous books written on the topic worthy of reading. If employers are going to achieve the employer-of-choice status, finding and keeping top talent within all age groups will be critical in the years to come. Those employers working on it now will be ahead of the talent shortage game. IBI