By Gen Y representative Katie Konrath
At Sarah’s workshop a couple weeks ago, someone brought up a really interesting way that a company is encouraging older workers to pass along their knowledge to younger generations.Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the company. I was so impressed by their story though, that I’m going to write about it anyways!
This company realized that a large majority of their workforce were Baby Boomer employees who were fast approaching retirement. Those workers held valuable knowledge gained from years of working in the field – knowledge that their younger workers simply didn’t have time to learn before the Boomer retirement exodus.As the company operated in an industry with a high learning curve, losing a major amount of their experienced workers would be devastating.
So, rather than panicking, the company figured out how to motivate older workers to pass on their knowledge to newer employees. They had learned that their Boomer employees looked forward to being able to travel after retirement – and in response, the company created an incentive program for Boomers.By developing ways to pass on their skills and knowledge – through workshops, etc – the Boomers earned travel credits. After holding several sessions to teach younger workers, a Boomer would have enough credits to go somewhere interesting (and a management that encouraged them to enjoy the trip).
To me, that sounds like an excellent way to handle different generations in the workplace. Xers and Yers become more engaged in the company because they’re learning valuable information that will help them in their future careers. They also get to see how much the Boomers know, and learn to view those older workers as mentors and teachers.Boomers not only benefit because the company is paying for them to enjoy themselves, they also feel validated that what they know is really valuable. And, younger workers look up to them because they realize how much the Boomers actually know.Of course, the company also benefits enormously from this. Their younger workers learn directly from their older workers – who are clamoring for an opportunity to teach. Respect rises in the workplace as the different generations interact constantly with each other. And both groups stay in the workplace longer: the Boomers because they don’t have to retire to travel, and the Gen Xers and Yers because they’re learning valuable skills.
This is the kind of program that I think more companies should be doing. Instead of mediating conflicts between the generations, encourage them to learn from each other. Then, make sure they do so by providing incentives for reaching out and sharing information.There would probably be much less conflict between the generations if companies regularly did this!
In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.
Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.
Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.
In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.
With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.
Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.
Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.
Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.
Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.
In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.
While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.
The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.
Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results. Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.
When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.
Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.
Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.
Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.
Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.
Looking for a game changer at your next event or a strategy unique to your organization?