My wife and I recently attended Iris Fest in Milwaukee. It is reportedly the largest festival celebrating Irish music in the world with some 70 different music groups annually. As we sat, looked around, and listened to a mix of music groups, we could not mistake the predominant hair colors – gray or none (I am sort of in between these two). In the same time frame, I “retreated” with university administrators, as we discussed the future of the university. Again, the predominant color was gray. That is to be expected, as we try hard to steer younger academics toward research and publication. Yet it also makes clear that there are a good many older workers still earning their livings. We talk of and welcome the addition of millennials to the workforce, but baby boomers and their predecessors are still very much in evidence.
The workplace now contains four generations. The youngest, the millenials, will grow to be even larger than the baby boom generation. In the meantime, boomers still predominate. As others have written, the generations often have different values, different attitudes toward work, and different skills. The challenge is how to make the workplace productive and encouraging for all of us.
I know younger workers who are making extensive use of electronic media at work; some older workers view this as unproductive. That impression is often false, as these younger workers do contribute at least as much, but perhaps not at the same hours or pace as older workers. Older workers may be viewed as hidebound and slow to change. Younger workers struggle to understand why change is so hard for their seniors. Again, there are valid reasons from both points of view. Unfortunately, it is often hard to bring harmony to these disparate perspectives. That is what we must do, if we are truly to take advantage of the many strengths brought by different generations.
I am most interested in hearing your views as to what the best methods are to meld young and old in the workplace. The rewards are well worth the effort. Please let me (and others) know.