We hear about generational differences in the workplace constantly: members of Generation Y want to have it all — a flexible workplace, work-life balance, autonomy and responsibility — without putting in the time and paying their dues; Baby Boomers and GenXers are resistant to new ideas and technology and are unwilling to teach and mentor the next generation of leaders.
The generation gap can feel wide when you are working with 20-somethings fresh out of college and 60-somethings nearing retirement, but the fact is that your organization has a huge opportunity to benefit from these different perspectives and skills. It’s time to put aside stereotypes and explore ways to create a sustainable mentorship program within your organization.
3 Steps Toward Using the Generation Gap for Good
1. Pay attention to what is happening naturally.
Mentoring often happens informally in an office. For example, an employee who has been with the company for years shares experience and advice on giving an effective sales pitch with a new hire, and the new employee asks questions and practices to hone his own individual approach. Actively support these mentoring moments; encourage older employees to dedicate a portion of their time to sharing their expertise, and show both the mentor and the mentee that you applaud their efforts.
2. Foster an open culture for two-way learning.
A mentorship program may receive some resistance from older employees who are afraid of losing their jobs or responsibilities to lower-level employees. Demonstrate that you value the experience and knowledge Baby Boomers and GenXers can pass on to younger employees, as well as the new ideas or approaches Gen Y can bring to the table. Show by example that continuous learning is desirable for everyone in your organization; ask questions, admit when you have knowledge gaps and be open to the influence of others.
3. Match up complementary employees.
Look for ways you can build mentoring opportunities and minimize the generation gap through the day-to-day work your employees do. If you have a big project coming up, assign people who have a mix of different skill sets and levels of experience to work on it (for example, have a long-term employee lead the project and assist several younger members of the team). Be generous with your recognition, and express public appreciation for the mentoring successes you see within your team.
Do you have a mentorship program at your company? What advice would you give to others who are just starting one?