Intergenerational Collaboration in the Workplace
Organizations are now composed of a great diversity of generations. The entire global workforce is now represented by 4 generations: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and more recently, Generation Z.
The importance of thinking about the concept of generation and generational specificities has been emphasized by several researchers since the 1950s. Currently, even though studies agree on the existence of four generations in the labour market, there are divergences on how to designate these generations and on their characteristics. The generational picture must therefore be interpreted with caution, as the characteristics and values associated with each group are only trends and do not apply to all individuals.
Each generation has evolved because of circumstances or historical events that have shaped a pattern for each group in terms of values and expectations about work.
There are a lot of books or articles on the description and analysis of the so-called generations. To summarize, we can focus on the major themes associated with each of them. Baby Boomers (those born before 1960) have a high level of commitment to the company and place work at the center of their lives. They have a linear work history and respect for authority and hierarchy. Boomers aspire to stability and job security.
Generation X (people born in the 60s and 70s) stayed in school longer. They question authority, highly hierarchical structures, and vertical communication. These entrepreneurial workers place a high value on life balance.
Generation Y or Why, or millennials (people born in the 80s and 90s) have a thirst for freedom and autonomy. They emphasize the search for meaning, valuing creativity and innovation. This is the generation of collaborative management that mobilizes collective intelligence.
Finally, generation Z is made up of people born in the 21st century. This hyper-connected generation is demanding in terms of job quality and opportunities for advancement, and values flexibility, diversity, conviviality, and involvement in social issues.
These trends are useful for raising awareness of generational differences in organizations. However, it is important to use these concepts in a way that goes beyond labels and builds on these differences.
Harmonious and Effective Cohabitation
Some authors have shown that differences between generations can make it difficult to live together within the same organization. Among other things, they point out consequences such as the deterioration of relationships at work, role ambiguities, loss of efficiency, lack of collective motivation, etc. It is true that this mix of generations that rub shoulders, exchange and work together can raise concerns. Unfortunately, too much emphasis has been placed on separate age management, rather than on developing synergy between generations. Yet, this collaboration is essential since it has an impact on the company’s performance.
So, how can we promote intergenerational collaboration in the workplace? Managers, human resources advisors and employees all play a key role in stimulating this collaboration through the implementation of various initiatives. Here are a few avenues for action:
First, for the generations to coexist effectively, it is necessary to work on an inclusive corporate culture that promotes “working together”. It is important for the organization to emphasize the importance of collaboration and collective intelligence. We must explain how this intergenerational cohabitation can be a source of innovation and performance. This can be done, for example, by setting up an awareness-raising process. The organization can also unite employees around common objectives and values that will give meaning to the collective action. Companies can also include interaction between generations in the integration process of new resources.
Organizations should encourage the creation of a corporate culture based on a positive vision of differences.
In order to foster a corporate culture of openness, employees need to feel comfortable sharing their ideas and perspectives.
It is important to foster communication and create moments of sharing between different generations of workers. On a formal level, there can be collaborative workshops or discussion meetings. Informally, it is possible to promote cohesion through means such as team-building activities or collective events that aim to create a bond between employees.
The manager must listen to employees in order to receive their perceptions. He or she must also be prepared to intervene when potential generational conflicts arise. The leader must ensure a harmonious climate by being attentive to what is going on, and after understanding the issues, he or she must promote understanding and internal communication.
Reciprocal mentoring is a very interesting method of knowledge sharing to foster intergenerational collaboration. It is a learning relationship in which one person voluntarily offers their expertise to another. It is possible to pair a junior with a senior so that each generation learns from the other. This contact between 2 realities allows a better acceptance of differences. The senior brings his or her experience, but also the corporate culture. The junior can teach the senior new ways of working. This technique improves the motivation of the employees and increases performance.
Co-development can also be a stimulating approach to intergenerational teamwork. This approach allows a person to expose a problem to his peers in order to collect possible solutions from them after a questioning phase. The diversity of generations in a co-development group allows a variety of skills to be shared.
When you can get several generations to work together towards a common goal, you can achieve effective and innovative solutions. It is therefore in the manager’s interest to mix the generations in order to take advantage of the diverse skills. Within an intergenerational team, the manager must preserve the spirit of collaboration. They must ensure that each member feels that they belong.
Limiting oneself to making generations cohabit is not a sufficient ambition if we take into account the current issues experienced by organizations. We need to invest in human capital and collective intelligence. Having a diverse company does not just mean “checking off” a box on a form. Promoting the mix of work groups by age means improving working conditions and performance. In order to meet the challenges of today’s workplace, the leader must be able to count on his team. Therefore, it is the manager’s responsibility to get his or her team members to work together in order to take advantage of the skills of each individual and the collective potential. Instead of opposing each other, the generations must learn to complement each other!
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