Intergenerational working

An intergenerational workforce, where the different generations complement each other, will benefit everyone and overcome harmful divisions, a webinar for Global Intergenerational Week heard yesterday.

Mentor training a younger employee

 

Parents, more than anyone, know about intergenerational issues as we spend a lot of our lives trying to understand and communicate with our kids as well as sometimes caring for our own parents. 

This week is Global Intergenerational Week and a webinar yesterday titled ‘The benefits of applying an intergenerational approach to the workforce’ highlighted ways that we can overcome all the widening generational divisions. Organised by Generations Working Together, two of the speakers were from CoGenerate, a US-based body that states on its website that “we’re arguably the most age-segregated nation in history”. It says: “This separation of generations is linked to a raft of problems, including generational conflict, rampant ageism, and an epidemic of loneliness and isolation, with older and younger people the two most isolated groups in society. The mismatch between historic age diversity and the legacy of age segregation not only drives isolation, polarisation, and zero-sum thinking, it’s causing us to miss an extraordinary opportunity.”

The two speakers, Duncan Magidson, digital communications specialist, and Marci Alboher, Vice President of Narrative Change, illustrated the organisation’s approach to bringing the generations closer together. Alboher is 58 and works closely with Magidson who is in his 30s. Consciously seeking to have a cross-generational perspective on work is challenging, said Alboher, but worthwhile because an age-diverse workplace is better for everyone and because age and generational tensions are real and damaging for everyone.

Those tensions result in ageism – against both old and younger generations and a sense of lack of belonging for the generation in the minority, a sense that the working environment is not designed for you. They also reflect a certain power dynamic [for instance, with power held by older people in US politics and by younger people in sectors such as advertising]. 

Intergenerational opportunities

Yet intergenerational teams have better results, bringing in a wider range of perspectives and complementary skills, for instance, the fluid intelligence of the younger generation focused on quick thinking and innovation versus the crystallised intelligence of the more mature, based on lived experience.

What’s more, Alboher and Magidson stressed that age is never the only thing in the room because people have hugely complex identities, different experiences [they cited frontline workers versus homeworking office workers during Covid, for example] and increasingly go through different life stages at different times these days. Caregivers may be younger, for instance, or parents may be older. There is often more intersectionality across the generations than is commonly thought. What is needed, they said, was greater opportunities for contact between the generations to shift negative stereotypes and access the full benefits of all generations.



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