This article was based on episode 83 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get a free digital copy of Jeff’s latest book: Lean Vs Agile Vs Design Thinking when you become a member at mamieks.com/join.
For the first time in history, there are organizations with as many as five generations represented in their workforce. While some believe this presents many challenges, others like Phyllis Weiss Hazero, the foremost workplace expert on cross-generational dialogue at work, see it as incredibly valuable.
Phyllis’s newest book You Can’t Google it! The Compelling Case for Cross-Generational Conversation at Work explores generational challenges and opportunities. She is President of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consultancy, as well as a speaker and blogger on intergenerational relations issues.
In order to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge and relationships held by today’s employees, regardless of age, we must increase the level of cross-generational dialogue. It starts by revisiting our assumptions, both positive and negative, about age.
ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT AGE ARE OFTEN INACCURATE
We all make generalizations about various age cohorts in the workplace. Young people are inexperienced. Older folks struggle with technology. A woman in her 30s will be distracted by kids at home.
Phyllis says that age is no longer a predictor of work performance, capability, or even experience. Decades ago, you might have been able to accurately convey a picture of someone based on their age, but no longer.
There are so many influences in our lives beyond the social and political environment that typically describes a generation. These additional influences include geography, religion, family dynamics and more.
THERE ARE MULTIPLE FORMS OF AGE
Phyllis describes multiple forms of age, each of which provides an important insight into the individual:
Chronological age: The number of years since birth.
Generational age: The economic, social, political and cultural influences that impacted an entire cohort of people.
Career stage or occupational age: The accumulation of experiences, competence, skills and social capital related to a specific line of work, not the totality of all work experience.
Organizational age or tenure: How long someone has been with a specific employer or in a specific profession.
Life events age: The stage of moving through the common life cycle events such as getting married, having kids, etc.
Physical age: One’s health and relative ability to carry out daily work and personal tasks.
Relative age: How one feels comparatively in a group setting.
Social age: How old society or others in the group perceive one to be.
Subjective age: One’s sense of their own age.
These various forms of age impact work in different ways. If you feel your relative age is much younger than those in a meeting, you may be intimidated and therefore not speak up. On the other hand, you may assume an older person has deep industry experience when in fact, they switched careers and are relatively new to the space.
EXPAND YOUR RELATIONSHIP CIRCLE WITH TWO-WAY MENTORING
Too often, we unintentionally gravitate towards people of our same generation. Yet, the people we need to learn from, develop work relationships with, or share knowledge with, has little to do with age. We easily miss out on opportunities to gain important information and build valuable relationships.
Unfortunately there are barriers both real and perceived. If you’re young and want to learn, you may be seen as self-serving. If you’re older and want to share, you may be pegged as patronizing. This social pressure, whether real or not, further disincentivizes proactive learning and sharing.
As managers, we need to create an environment for cross-generational conversation and stop letting age be a barrier to connection. Phyllis suggests identifying three people who you want to connect with. You can start the conversation by saying, "I noticed something about your work and I was really impressed. I would love to learn more about it."
You can also offer to exchange information that might be valuable to them. This is called two-way mentoring.
Phyllis recommends being proactive in thinking about who would benefit from learning what you’ve learned. Mutual mentoring is becoming increasingly popular. The entire premise is that unlike traditional age-based mentoring, we each have some value to share with the other person.
Be proactive by identifying who you want to learn from? Who has industry knowledge (occupational age)? Who has been at your company for a while who may have useful knowledge of how things get done around here (organizational age)? What do you have to offer someone else?
HELP FIGHT AGE BAISES
The only way we can fight age biases while also making work more productive and enjoyable is by working together. When we share our experiences, knowledge and relationships, everyone benefits.
Let’s stop making assumptions about what someone can do, what their home life is like, or what they know based on our perceived age of them. Instead, let’s open a conversation and see where it leads.
KEEP UP WITH PHYLLIS
Get two worksheets on cross-generational dialogue - 10 Tips for Achieving a Culture of Generational Inclusion, Engagement and Belonging and How to Maximize Cross-Generational Working Relations with Conversations Each Generation Wants to Have - when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at mamieks.com/join.
This article was based on episode 83 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.