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Five Ways to Work in a Multi-Generational Workforce

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In today’s average workplace we’re part of a multi-generational mix of people – up to five generations strong. Rightly or wrongly the expectations and impact of these groups are often debated (or, in many cases, assumed). We regularly hear about baby boomer tech laggards, entitled Millennials, and transient GenZers.

It’s time for us to challenge ageism, and our own unconscious bias.

After all, some of the most successful names in business illustrate how age has no role in defining experience or capability:

  • At 36, Julia Child abandoned a career as a CIA Intelligence Agent to become one of the world’s foremost experts on French cuisine. She published her first best-selling cookbook at age 50.
  • In his 30s, Jonah Peretti launched Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post. Before he became an internet icon, Peretti was working as a computer science teacher for middle-schoolers.
  • From country lawyer to gas station operator and railroad worker, Harland Sanders (better known as Colonel Sanders), franchised his first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in 1952 when he was 62.
  • And of course Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his dormitory room and by age 23 became the world's youngest self-made billionaire.

There are several approaches we can take to make sure we add value through our own work and the way we work with others.

Here are five ways to shine in an intergenerational workforce:

  1. Keep learning (and welcome lessons from others) – Invest in your success by up-skilling often. Share your new-found knowledge with colleagues. The key to business success isn’t just making sure you’re the best you can be, it’s also about bringing others on the learning journey with you, developing a strong working rapport, and creating a sense of shared goals.
  2. Realize you don’t have all the answers - It can be tempting to assert your authority when you’ve been in the game a while. On the other hand, those that are new to the working world might be motivated to prove their worth. Conferring with colleagues and sharing approaches can produce better ways of working, for all. Recognize the limits of your knowledge and call on the skills of others around you.
  3. ALWAYS show respect - It’s a simple rule worth remembering. We all crave respect regardless of our age, experience, or role. Encourage and really listen to the opinions of your coworkers. Give “talent” and “potential” equal billing with “seniority” and “experience.” Focus on individual strengths rather than on generational differences.
  4. Be a communication chameleon – We all have our own preferences when it comes to communication. Research suggests Boomers tend to prefer one-on-one and voice communication, while Millennials rely on text messaging and the collaborative interaction of social media. To get the most value from your interactions tailor your communication style to suit its intended recipients.
  5. Think of yourself as an internal consultant – You’ve been chosen for your role for several reasons. Chief among them is your perceived potential or expertise in a particular field. Push aside any thoughts of “imposter syndrome” and view yourself as an in-house specialist. When you see an opportunity to streamline or change something for the better, demonstrate “why” by using evidence, data, and persuasive people skills to present your argument in an unquestionably solid way. Thinking of yourself as an “internal consultant” looking for new ways of working individually and as a team will earn you respect, and a collaborative working relationship across multi-generations.

Ultimately, to succeed in today’s multi-generational workforce, you must be willing to embrace change, adapt and listen to your colleagues, regardless of their age and experience. Accept that you won’t always know the answer, there may be someone better placed to come up with it and new ways of working might deliver better outcomes than the status quo.

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