100 Years of Experience in One Room

The labor force as we know it will soon be one of the most unique in history. By the year 2020, there will be five generations working side-by-side in industries across the globe. If you do the math, that’s nearly 100 years of experience jam-packed into one organization.

Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to work with clients and co-workers who range from decades older than I to decades younger. Working with people is exactly why I chose this industry. It’s fun, high-energy and never the same day twice.

I thrive on the daily interaction with my peers and clients as I learn what makes them tick. I have learned to ask questions and truly listen to what is being said… and what isn’t. This helps me build solid relationships. Naturally, I have experienced relationships that come easy with an instant connection. But there are some that are challenging from the start, and no matter what is said or how you say it, it is difficult to see eye to eye.

This same scenario plays itself out in organizations and industries daily. But with so much diversity and experience in the workforce, some connections come easier than others. In fact, you are probably thinking of someone right now that you just can’t seem to build a rapport with. Each generation brings with it different values, views and opinions about how a company should operate. This lack of cohesion often leads to miscommunication, frustration and disengagement.

Where’s the opportunity?
It’s no secret that there is a very real labor shortage happening in many technical, construction and manufacturing industries that will dramatically impact the future. With the reduction of younger generations entering these fields and older generations retiring, there is a gap happening that is forcing companies to re-evaluate how they source and train new, quality talent.

But this blog isn’t to focus on the problem. It’s calling attention to embrace this unique period in history.

If companies acknowledge and foster this new generational span in the workforce, it can also lead to innovative ways of thinking. Bringing diverse minds together to collaborate can propel a company forward. Having access to an incredible array of talent and creating a culture that fosters open communication, will open doors and generate new ways of thinking that have never been tapped into before.

This leaves us asking: Is it possible to create a culture that can be all-inclusive?

Understanding Generational Intelligence (GQ)
What is GQ? Yes, it’s a magazine. But it’s also a newer term that is gaining some momentum. GQ stands for Generational Intelligence, and it’s something that will take time and effort to understand and implement. It will be imperative for an organization to build its GQ by enabling employees at all levels to feel a part of an inclusive culture that not only embraces the differences but finds ways to value what each brings to the table.

This is not only a human resources function. This is not a three-part course that includes a certification upon completion. Building companywide GQ is an opportunity to educate everyone from the senior C-suite down to new hires about the importance of cross-generational understanding, collaboration and inclusion. It’s building an open environment that fosters conversation and inclusion. It’s an ongoing process that takes time, new ideas and a fresh approach to how things have been done in the past. It’s a shift in the thought process over time, not a simple change in procedures.

According to organizational behavior expert Tammy Erickson, one of the four biggest reasons for generational conflict is that older and younger employees misinterpret each other’s behavior. Understanding why someone from another generation behaves the way they do is crucial to better generational harmony; this begins with identifying which generation your employees belong to and understanding their work-related values and behaviors. It is also understanding that management styles will need to evolve as younger generations enter the workforce.

Each generation brings with it a tremendous value. The key is for an organization to tap into that value and use the vast range of knowledge and experience to move its business forward faster. As 2020 approaches, remember there will be 100 years of experience in one room. Embrace it! Come on in and grab a seat. There is room for everyone.

Here are a few tips to get started:
Establish a Culture Committee made up of contributors from all generations represented within the organization. Encourage idea-sharing around events, awards and fundraising opportunities that could appeal to everyone.

Create a company newsletter (or revamp a current newsletter structure) to include contributions from various job functions and generations within the organization.

Develop a mentorship program that inspires older generations to engage with younger generations in unique ways. This creates an opportunity for each to learn from the other as peers. This could be done 1:1 or in a group setting.

Create an annual off-site event that fosters team-building between generations through a fun or educational experience outside of the office walls.