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This show is for all ages! Leveraging generations in the office.

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Much has been written about multiple generations in the workplace, most of it focusing on the challenges of creating environments that cater to the diverse work styles of these groups.  But in spite of the differences in the quantity and color of our hair, we can learn a lot from each other if we can get over the stereotypes and respect the tremendous value and insight each group brings to the office.

If you’re older:

Baby Boomers and Traditionalists (born 1922-1960) still make up over 35% of the work force according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Athough almost 10,000 Boomers retire every day, did you know that the percentage of workers who are age 65-69 has risen from 18% in 1985 to 32% in 2011? In short, older workers are hanging around longer and still hold the majority of leadership positions in US firms.

We are often suspicious of younger groups, seeing them as lazy, disloyal, and unwilling to “pay their dues” like we did. Yet 30% of Gen Y started a business when they were in college, a far cry from the campus jobs and burger-flipping that financed my education. Younger workers’ visions and interests are much bigger than just the job and include friends, personal adventures and social awareness. They are more likely to work to live rather than the other way around, an attitude we could all learn from. Tap into their brashness as well as their ability to not simply understand technology but to work it to their advantage.  But don’t make them wait too long for opportunities because they will probably leave long before you think they’re ready for the challenge.

If you’re younger:

The Census Bureau estimates that in a few years half of the workforce will be less than thirty years old. Many will have changed jobs more than once since graduation. And odds are that even if you’re happily employed, you’ll still be on the lookout for your next opportunity. You are the first generation to view yourselves more as free agents than permanent employees and that transience is helping you to quickly acquire a diverse set of skills and job experiences. My own daughter recently entered the workforce and my advice to her was to find a mentor. Work has changed but the essentials of succeeding in business haven’t. Having the insight of someone who has been through the business cycle a few times can provide some stability and long view perspective that many Millennials lack. My generation coined the phrase, “don’t trust anyone over 30”, but it turns out we were wrong about that. There’s a lot to be said for longevity.

If you’re in-between:

Middle children often feel neglected or under-appreciated and such is the case with Gen X. You’ve never been as big or as vocal as your older “siblings” and now you’re being upstaged again by a bold young group that also vastly outnumbers you. The good news is that you are increasingly in positions of influence as companies experience a leadership drain of epic proportions. It’s your time to shine but to be successful you’ll need to bridge the gap between the old and the new. Your group simply isn’t large enough to handle it alone so you’ll need to draw on the resources of both older and younger co-workers. Neither is likely to be with your company for very long so you’ll need to be quick at assessing skills and assembling teams to solve a particular problem. Gen X is known for its self-reliance but the irony is that you’ll need to trust others more than ever to achieve your goals.

In summary, it’s healthy to be uncomfortable once in a while especially if it encourages you to try something new. I don’t mind being pushed by the generations that follow me as long as they keep in mind that I’m not quite finished with my career yet. Further, I’m excited by the fresh perspectives they bring and look forward to which of my “tried and true” methodologies they will challenge tomorrow. And in the meantime, I’ll be asking my daughter for tips on how to multitask in a noisy place.

| By Michael Fazio

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Quotable

“A mega-trend is sharing instead of ownership of workspaces. We can either all ride in coach or we can share a private jet.”

Chris Blackadder
Principal, Woods Bagot