The exciting benefits of a multi-generational workplace
Photo by Hal Gatewood
As the brilliant Chip Conley says in his Ted Talk about intergenerational workplaces, “It’s hard to microwave your emotional intelligence”.
He’s hinting at the fact that while Millennials and other younger generations are born in the digital world and swim in it confidently, natural digital natives with high levels of digital intelligence, there’s no substitute for age and experience. At the same time the Baby Boomer generation is famously emotionally intelligent, and they have considerable business experience and wisdom under their belt. Of course these are generalisations. many of the older generation are digitally savvy and not all of them are emotionally intelligent, despite their years.Some can be stuck in their ways. Many younger people are wise beyond their years and not all of them are as hard wired digitally as we might first assume.
The important aspect here is that Chip Conley outlines the value and relevance of sharing experience. Exploring together different perspectives – learning from each other whatever your age.
If you run a business it makes sense to make the most of the older and younger generations, and everyone in between. The facts bear out the theory. Several studies in Europe have revealed businesses that employ an age-diverse workforce succeed better than those who major on one age group at the expense of the rest.
While Millennials can’t microwave their emotional intelligence, they can tap into the EQ of older generations. And while older generations don’t always have a high level of DQ – digital intelligence – they can learn from their younger counterparts, something that’s often called ‘reverse mentorship’.
About cross generational mentoring and reverse mentorship
Cross-generational mentoring means pairing someone from one generation with a person from a different generation to create mutual learning. When the generations share experiences, skills and new ways of doing things, they eliminate skill gaps . And they also get rid of unhelpful generational gaps. In times when it isn’t that unusual to find five different generations working in one company, it’s important.
As a younger person, how would you feel about mentoring someone older than you? As an older person, how would you feel about someone younger mentoring you? In the USA Chip Conley says around 40% of workers have a boss who is younger than they are. It’s probably much the same here in Britain, particularly in the digital arena, and especially since more or less every business on the planet has an online presence.
Cross-generational mentorship benefits both sides. In a reverse mentorship relationship, experienced employees and managers benefit from the fresh new perspective of younger peers and employees, and younger staff learn from the business savvy of their elders, as well as their extensive knowledge of the way relationships in general work.
The benefits are clear. When you only learn from people older than you, you miss out on fresh ideas and new ways of looking at the world. When you only learn from younger people, you miss out on decades’ worth of context, experience and expertise. Bring them together and you get the best of both worlds.
Photo by Chris Knight
That’s how all human communities live outside work, after all. We tend to live cheek-by-jowl with with people of all sorts of ages: our neighbours, friends and relatives tend to span every age from newborn to centenarian. Were built that way, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise that we also work best that way.
Cross-generational communications feel good
It feels good knowing your strengths. It feels even better knowing how to use them in creative ways to serve other people. When you add value to someone else’s life, you feel great. When you have a real impact in the workplace, you feel valued. Reaching mutual understanding feels good. Successful communications is therefore satisfying. These are all signs of the significant benefit that intergenerational mentoring can potentially bring in terms of fostering self esteem, building relationships and creating more effective results.
The future of mutual intergenerational mentoring
We see structured, reciprocal mentoring programmes as exciting opportunities to create connections, promote understanding between generations, and encourage thought leadership, developing people and the organisations they work for. We also see informal and informative conversations shared by different generations collaborating together as an essential element of healthy business cultures.
We believe that this kind of mutual mentoring will become the theme of the future, heralding a landscape where sharing age group wisdom consistently delivers more than the sum of the parts. All it takes is the will to listen to each other with curiosity and respect to get the most out of today’s increasingly diverse employee age sets.
Would you like your people – and ultimately your business – to get the most out of inter-generational coaching? If so, get in touch to discuss the possibilities.