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I’m 70 years old and have been doing Organizational Development consulting work for about 35 years.  The lead consultant for a project team I’m on now is 29.  It works. Why wouldn’t it?

Megatrends:  5Gen

A growing trend across industries is the stretching of the employee age band to include five generations working together. It seems like a difficult dynamic to some—much is being written about it these days–but we are heading into a future where even more generations might be sharing the workplace. After all, we expect people to soon have longer life expectancies than we do now.

I keep reading that what we at Continuum call the ‘5Gen’ trend is generally perceived as creating problems and communication issues for organizations.

Maybe. But what if… we shift our focus to the many advantages of having multiple generations working together. Each generation experiences the workplace differently and even perceives the world in distinct ways.  So, when we’re solution seeking together, we will naturally see multiple possibilities for the way forward. That can be a huge benefit. I like working next to others on our stair steps of ages at Continuum, squinting toward a project or the future and saying, “Here’s what I see. What do you see?” “Here’s what I hope for. What about you?” “What did you hear in that client/customer meeting? Here’s what I heard.” 

We all bring so much to the table.  For the younger crew, it’s a good idea to not judge the value of a boomer’s input just because they may not be wicked fast digitally. And GenXers and boomers, don’t count out Millennials and GenZers just because they have fewer years of experience under their belts. We can all learn from one another, bringing our own personal ‘telescope’ to projects. Working in greater generational diversity has made me less certain that I know the answer or the way forward on any given project.  That’s good. And, working with more perspectives keeps meetings lively with opinions flying around the room or Zoom.

You know how we are always encouraging the young to be respectful of their elders?  Yes, that’s important. But, 5Gen is making me more respectful of my ‘juniors,’ grateful for their ideas, perspectives, expertise, and of course, that incredible energy.

Research and Data

In researching 5Gen for clients and for ourselves at Continuum, I’m happy to see that recommendations for easing potential cross-generational tensions are things that we can easily do in almost any workplace:

  • don’t dwell on differences; emphasize commonalities
  • build collaborative relationships
  • create opportunities for cross-generational mentoring

We do well to beware of stereotyping one another. We all just want to create good lives and contribute, even though that may look different to each of us. What’s important to all is receiving equitable pay, opportunity, and recognition, which shouldn’t be hard for companies to pull off, no matter an employee’s age.

A helpful set of 2021 resources from Biz Library on 5Gen is worth saving: The One Value that Unites Generational Differences in the Workplace. Author Caroline Miller shared the results of some research she pulled together:

Would it surprise you to know that each generation’s top values are more alike than they are different? When you look deeper than preferences in communication and adeptness with technology, it’s clear that there are stronger commonalities than there are differences.

The problem is that we’ve not done a good job revealing these commonalities because we often can’t seem to get past the surface tension. Therefore, stereotypes and negative attitudes run rampant, rather than understanding and collaborating across generations.

Caroline Miller, Author

We have more in common than we think. And so much to gain. That being said, two of Continuum’s (millennial) consultants, Morgan White and Micah have just this month finished their Master of Science degrees in Organizational Development at American University. We salute them and appreciate the fresh ideas they continually contribute. Lucky us!

By Sallie Lee

Sallie Lee is part of Continuum’s consulting team. She has served as a thinking partner, strategist, and facilitator for a global client base.