There are often many ways to solve a problem, but without a diversity of perspectives from a multi-generational workplace, those solutions may not be thought of, introduced, or considered.
My 21-year-old nephew is visiting me from college in South Carolina. He’s been in town here in Portland, Oregon, for four days, and in that time, I think I, my wife, or his grandmother have given him about four and a half days’ worth of advice about work, school, love, family, and politics.
I don’t think it’s our intention to do so; it just sort of happened.
There has been more than one moment, however, during our discussions when I’ve realized his questions challenging my assumptions and those of American society were not because he wanted to be a pain in the butt (though that could have been a factor), but because he’s got a particular stake about this world we’re leaving him.
His youth and inexperience means he doesn’t know as much as me, especially when he laments about love, but his questions made me think, and explain why this or that may be the case. His questions made me appreciate the different perspective he holds, just from being 20+ years younger than me.
I recently wrote about what we could learn from the process of writing the Declaration of Independence. One lesson worth another look was the benefit of working with diverse groups, whether that diversity is gender, age, race, sexual preference, culture, nationality – and the list goes on. For example, the five-person committee working on the Declaration included the youngest and oldest members of the Continental Congress (Thomas Jefferson, 33, and Benjamin Franklin, 70, respectively).
Act-On’s Teyana Backey will be taking a look at the progress of getting more women and minorities into the tech industry in an upcoming post. Today, I’m exploring the benefits of having generational diversity in the workplace.
Why generational diversity in the workplace is important
The experiences of each generation – experiences made in a specific time and place in history – shape who we are, what we value, how we value it, how we prioritize those values, how we interact with others and in the world, and how we back up those values (through purchases, social shares, protest, and so forth).
Younger generations will get credit for bringing fresh insights and energy to a group, but older generations offer wisdom and insight that comes from rich experiences and perspective. I’m the middle child of sorts on our content marketing team. And like many middle children, as a Gen Xer, I am often overshadowed by the issues and interests of Baby Boomers and Millennials (oh, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!). But enough about me.
According to the report, Millennials, whom the Pew Research Center defines as those ages 18-34 in 2015, now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51-69). (The cohort sometimes referred to as Gen Y roughly corresponds to the Millennial cohort.)
Rather than read about what I could learn about Boomers and Millennials, I decided to interview them instead. Sherry Lamoreaux is a senior editor and McKenzie Ingram is a marketing journalist here at Act-On. Sherry is a Boomer, and McKenzie is a Millennial.
The difference between Millennials and Boomers in the workplace
One of the first things I learned was that while McKenzie or Sherry may be a member of their respective generational groups, being so doesn’t define them. “Millennials get a bad rap about entitlement. It’s probably true generally,” McKenzie said, laughing. “But that doesn’t apply to every one of us.”
Likewise, Sherry observed, “I imagine the throughline is recognizing when good is good. You don’t need to be old or young to perceive that, and it doesn’t need to be limited by a particular channel.”
That is a risk marketers face if they’re developing a persona to reach a particular group. When we rely on only one segment variable – in this case, age – we are assuming that everyone who is a Millennial is the same and that they are also distinct from other groups, such as Boomers. But Sherry and McKenzie both are also women, writers, bloggers, editors, content marketers, marketers, and the list goes on.
This over-generalization mistake can also happen inside the workplace. The stereotypes are that Millennials become frustrated by their Boomer co-workers’ late adoption of tech and new platforms such as social, while Boomers complain that Millennials demand immediate status and success from day one, eschewing the need to “pay their dues.”
The Hartford, the insurance and financial services group, released the Benefits for Tomorrow Study in 2013 and 2014, looking at some of the generational perceptions within the workplace. In it, they found that 96 percent of Millennials believe Boomers in the workplace is a great source of mentorship. And 90 percent of Boomers agreed that Millennials bring new skills and ideas to the workplace.
And that launches us into the four benefits I have observed for a multi-generational workplace.
A fuller understanding of a multi-generational workplace based on experience
Each generation brings different skills and talents to the table. It’s not just that Millennials have a better grasp on technology, it’s that they have never known a world without the Internet, cellphones/smartphones, and so forth. As McKenzie said, “I never have to wait to get an answer to a question. Every answer is on the web.”
Similarly, Sherry brings to the table diverse marketing experiences working in newspapers, radio, and direct mail catalogs; as well as working with established companies and fast startups. She has the perspective of being an employee, the manager, and her own boss.
That depth of experience, including those of us complaining Gen Xers, means the workplace has more context to what’s going on in the world and with our customers, who also range across generations. This is particularly important when you begin talking about account-based marketing and trying to develop relationships with individuals throughout an account, from the young marketing specialist to the CMO. Having the collective experiences of those personas gives you a head start.
The importance of mentoship in the modern workplace
“I’ve learned so much from Sherry and Karrie,” McKenzie said, adding in Karrie Sundbom, Act-On’s Senior Content Marketing Manager and also a Gen Xer. “I’m a better writer. I’ve learned about leadership, communication skills, and navigating in a larger company. All the things you’re not going to learn in school or on the Internet.”
As The Hartford study reflected, the different generations in your workplace offer great mentorship opportunities – in both directions. Millennials can learn from Boomers or Xers, and Boomers can learn from the Millennials. (Speaking on behalf of Xers, we already know everything).
“Everyone’s experience is different,” Sherry said. “The Millennials have had experiences I’ve not had. And each person adds to the conversation, and gives you more exponential opportunities.”
A sustainable pipeline of talented and motivated professionals
A workplace shines when it has a steady pipeline of talents and leaders that are ready to step up when their names are called. Back to the Declaration of Independence example, Thomas Jefferson was a substitute to the Continental Congress, filling in for an older statesman from Virginia. The opposite of this is a workplace too heavily composed of one age group. For those who follow sports, the San Antonio Spurs basketball team has been particularly adept at adding young quality players to its pipeline, who are ready to step up when older players retire from the sport. And this year’s New York Yankees baseball team is an example of a roster too heavy on older, past-their-prime players (who they’re now in the process of trading or coercing into retirement).
Likewise, you’re going to better able to recruit and retain future talent (of any generation) when they see you are committed to everyone’s success. Feeling included and appreciated increases loyalty and feeling of belonging.
By having a mix of generations in your workplace, you are gaining from all those experiences. They – the Boomers, the Xers, the Millennials – then work collaboratively together, learning from each other. They then are able to quickly step in when the opportunity arises, leaving the organization better off from having that continuity.
And when you develop what Sherry describes as the “habit of always be learning” something else magical happens. You get this wonderful mashup of ideas and experiences that produce greater creativity, innovation, and more spontaneous breakthroughs.
We experienced this creativity during a recent brainstorming session. Everyone was introducing great ideas, based on their unique experiences. Everyone was laughing. And we could barely keep up listing all the cool, innovative projects you will be seeing Act-On roll out over the next year.
You know that moment when the coworker sitting next to you complains how old she is, and then references music that was released 20 years after you graduated college? That you also, somehow, know and love? Well, appreciate the moment and think about both your commonalities and what you can learn from each other.