Bickering, stereotyping, and even contempt between the generations isn’t anything new, but it’s certainly more in our face as we ease deeper into the digital age.
Gen Z, Gen Y, millennial, Gen X, or boomer, it shouldn’t matter. We’ve all either been there or are headed in the same direction, yet the volume seems turned up on the negativity between the younger and older generations.
Want to be innovative? Want to be cutting edge? Want to be a trailblazer in your industry? Be one of the first to embrace the gifts each generation brings to the table and bridge the divide to your personal and professional advantage. It makes so much sense, and yet we rarely read about instances where intergenerational workforces are not only working together peacefully, they’re thriving – leading their industry, even.
I recently sat down and talked with a fellow Gen-X friend of mine (nobody really talks about us these days; maybe the other generations assume we’re still listening to Nirvana or cynically recalling how our first post-university job involved folding shirts at The Gap). This friend is a highly successful go-getter who made her mark in real estate investments and now works in the tech industry. She often collaborates with her beloved nephew who is…gasp…a millennial.
They work together seamlessly.
Why? They each understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, neither of which have much overlap. Essentially, together they are the perfect person.
“I recently worked with my nephew on a big event and it couldn’t have gone better. He brings the energy, the tech, and the ideas. There would be no party without him! Just don’t ask him to bring the cheese platter, because he’ll forget and we both know it.”
My friend, who is an older Gen X’er, contributes her wealth of knowledge and wisdom that can only come from decades of experience. She and her nephew, a brilliant tech-native, have a dynamic that works. “When you put our two perspectives together, it’s magic,” she says.
“Think about the boomers. Many of them are looking at retirement. They have time, money, institutional knowledge, and are looking for ways to redefine their next chapters. We also know that boomers are involved and looking to stay involved with their communities. The smart millennials are going to come in with their energy, fresh approach, and ask themselves what value system brought successful boomers to where they are today? How can we leverage that? The smart millennial partners with the boomers and crushes it.”
It seems obvious, doesn’t it? So why the strife? All this succeeds in doing is creating distracting noise we don’t need, taking time away from meaningful pursuits and partnerships that could be making tremendous impacts in industries all over the globe. Anecdotally, I sit on a nonprofit board where one of our newest trustees is recently retired. His proven track record and deep knowledge in creating successful STEM-based partnerships between academic institutions and tech and engineering companies is exactly what we need. Will he be creating the marketing collateral or social media campaigns for our similar program? No, and that’s okay. We have a 30-something who’s great at that.
Workplace culture is such an important aspect of a successful organization; rather than trying to change what isn’t going to change, or dismiss that which is different, look at how a synergistic pairing of diverse generational perspectives can add depth and dimension, taking something from good and making it great. Lest we forget, we have another generation rapidly maturing and entering the workplace and volunteering in their communities, and they are listening to us.
Be the bridge, whoever you are. It could change the world. Permit me, as a solid Gen-X’er, to say it even smells like team spirit.