Generational differences in the office
Generational differences in the office
Post written by Paragon Interiors   April 2, 2019

Harnessing the dynamic of generational differences in the office.

There’s always a rude awakening somewhere around the corner and on this occasion, it’s senior citizens. They don’t need the rude awakening, you do!

The memory-challenged and kindly old dears of the past have given way to a whole new breed that has spurned the concept of obsolescence after retirement and decided to keep on working – partly economic, partly because they’re living longer and partly because they’re far from done with life and have the will and energy to keep going and growing.  

But, here’s the thing (rude awakening alert), the 60+ age group globally is growing the fastest.  According to WHO, South Africa’s elderly population is projected to double by 2050. Meanwhile, developing countries are experiencing the ‘Youth Bulge’ said to be “outpacing growth and capacities of institutions to keep up.”  Apparently, 89% of the world’s youth live in less developed countries.

With both ends of the age spectrum on the increase, a rather serious conundrum awaits us.  

Fashion icon, Stella McCartney applies a little perspective, “Obviously we live in a society where ageing is feared.  But, to me, the alternative of getting old isn’t that great. I’ve got friends much older than me and much younger, which I love.  It means you get to teach as well as learn.”

In the workplace, there are advantages to be found in varied generational backgrounds and perspectives. There’s also the possibility of misunderstanding and conflict.

Looking for practical advice on positive interactions?  

  1. Focus more on similarities than differences.  Humans are inclined to default to stereo-typing which is not fair and often untrue.  Common ground can easily be unearthed by getting to know employees and finding ways for them to collaborate.
  2. Create opportunities for employees of different generations to interact in order to build collaborative relationships.
  3. Observe your staff and get to grips with the demographics of your workforce so that you’re familiar with their communication preferences and working methodology.
  4. Initiate opportunities for cross generational mentoring.
  5. Consider every individual’s life path, where they’re at in terms of life stage as well as their responsibilities and interests outside of work.  When commonalities and differences are shared, it leaves no room for assumptions. Says Lin Grensing-Pophel of HR Daily Advisor, “The more we are able to understand each other, the better we are able to work together.”

Seniors have the experience and wisdom to teach younger people how to push through hard times and recognise when loyalty is or isn’t in one’s best interests. Their knowledge of their specific industry, corporate policies and company politics can be invaluable to younger employees.  They also have much better interpersonal skills and can build more meaningful one-on-one relationships. Concepts like respect, courtesy and team play are best learned from elders.  They’re also experts on regret – more about what they didn’t do! This equips them with the necessary insights to help steer younger people to pursue new opportunities and potentially more fulfilling careers.  Seniors are also very good at teaching younger people to be more independent since the workplace needs people to depend on themselves and not expect anyone else to take care of them.

Seniors can also take a leaf out of a younger person’s book! Youngsters are ideally equipped to coach their elders on new technology. They also bring a much wider perspective to the office because of their diverse households and backgrounds.  For them, opportunity often trumps loyalty and they’re able to jump ship more readily to pursue more fulfilling and energising careers.  Elders can learn a lot from their entrepreneurial spirit, capacity to think out the box and openness to taking risks. They’re also much better at balancing work and life because they have different attitudes and values.

A new era demands a new way of thinking.  The dynamic of differences has every potential to become a wellspring of change and progress. We encourage you to harness it for the greater good of your organisation and its people.

Contact Paragon Interiors for office design that accommodates all generations in one office! www.paragon-interiors.co.za