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Gut Check: Are You an Intergenerational Leader?

It’s safe to say that hardly anyone saw this coming.

A few weeks ago, data guru Josh Bersin posted on LinkedIn some interesting labour market statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The data showed that the fastest growing employee cohort in the United States is those over seventy years of age.

This is largely a result of the fact that boomers are staying in the workplace longer than anticipated.  For some, it’s a financial need. For others, it’s simply the fact they are living longer and want to continue to have meaningful impact in the organizations in which they work.

In the end, the biggest impact of this trend is a confirmation that our workplaces will continue to be very diverse in terms of the generations represented.

However, I worry that many organizations are oblivious to this growing intergenerational diversity. As has been the case for some years now, most of the attention is being placed on the younger cohorts – specifically the Millennials and the impending Generation Z. While it is critically important to understand what makes young people tick and what they expect from their employers, too much focus on these two cohorts means we are missing opportunities that exist with other generations.

This point was driven home in a story I recently stumbled across which detailed a fascinating experiment done at a retirement home in Bristol, about three hours west of London, England.

Ten children from a local preschools were invited to spend regular periods of time with the seniors of the St. Monica Trust retirement home in Bristol. Channel 4 captured the story in a two-part television program. It was fascinating to see the children integrate into the lives of the home residents. It wasn’t long before we got to see residents happily toiling alongside the preschoolers on crafts, coloring projects and playing games.

The idea was inspired by research in the United States that found there were a number of health benefits created when young and old people regularly interact.

In the Bristol retirement home, residents spoke of feeling healthier, happier, less lonely and bored as a result of spending time with the preschoolers.

David Williams, the CEO of St Monica Trust, said of the experiment: “Seeing the evidence of the positive impact of bringing these two generations together has only strengthened the trust’s desire to create open communities that actively encourage contact across different age groups.”

So what does all this mean for those of us in leadership roles?

I believe we need to start creating greater intergenerational connections within our companies and within our teams.

The first step is we need to guard against the generational bashing that I still see rampant in articles and in social media.  Often, the bashing is aimed at Millennials for being lazy, entitled and not willing to wait for promotions or bigger salaries. I know the millennials that I talk to are tired of this. But I also know that many Boomers feel marginalized as well. This needs to stop!

Second, you need to find ways to connect younger and older workers. In the many leadership programs that my team and I design and facilitate, I often find that magic happens when you can connect the generations to each other. I remember in one program in particular, we paired boomers with young leaders. It was fascinating to see how they learned from each other and valued the unique perspective they each brought to the organization.

Collaboration between generations can provide an organization with a competitive edge: greater perspective, happier teams, better outcomes. All it takes is the courage to help the generations find common ground. Are you going to be a leader that perpetuates outdated myths about the many generations in our workplaces? Or are you going to be the leader who can unleash the tremendous value that comes from having the generations truly work together in meaningful ways?

This week’s leadership gut check asks: are you an intergenerational leader?

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro is a speaker, consultant, executive at Lee Hecht Harrison, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract now in its second edition.

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