Learning from each other

Boomers, Generation Xers, Millennials and then Generation Zers bringing up the rear. Four generations of our population with an age range from 7 to 73 and all with their own opinions, ways of looking at and doing things.

Just recently I read a Q&A, Boomers asking questions of Gen Zers. Questions ranged from ‘is email dead?’ to ‘do you blame us for climate change?’ One question, however, asked why Zers never thank or acknowledge receiving money, gifts, or cards? The reply from the 19-year-old to the 60-year-old questioned whether their thank-yous were what were expected from the Boomer, why isn’t a text enough and if we thank you, do you then have to thank me for the thank you. Where does it stop?

All sides of the Q&A had their say but there was a sense that it was done without any real understanding of the others point of view, something that perhaps we could do with a little more of.

Generational Empathy (a phrase I may have made up) seems to be lacking but much needed, especially in the workplace. Each generation has not only grown up with their own set of expectations foisted upon them by their elders, but they’ve settled into their own way of doing things. Social etiquette and ways of communicating is one such area and we can be dismissive if those who sit outside of our generational group don’t comply with how we do things. The way Baby Boomers communicate is very different from how the generations who simply don’t understand a life pre internet and mobile phones communicate. This might not matter but in cross generational workplaces where colleagues work alongside each other its vital that we learn how to establish clear and respectful lines of communication across those generations. It’s up to the individual to assess what they need to say, who they are saying it to and therefore how its best communicated. There’s no right or wrong (well ok, if you communicate by emoji to your friends perhaps row that back when communicating with your line manager) but what is needed, for colleagues to move forward together, is generational empathy. To learn from each other, to respect the divides and recognise that with so many ways and tools of communication, you might need to compromise and find some common ground.

I’m a strong believer in mentorship but this doesn’t always mean to mentor up (a younger colleague learning from an older colleague), mentorship can be a collaborative, mutually beneficial approach that offers a valuable learning and nurturing experience to both participants. Pairing cross generational colleagues together to not only learn new skills but develop generational empathy and understanding has never been more valuable than it is now. We know that the workplace has changed recently and most businesses now offer some work from home policy and one of the downsides to that is a lack of face to face communication. Colleagues need to engage across the business and its vital, for many reasons, that all staff continue to learn from each other especially when they’re not always in the same space. Cross generational mentoring is a rewarding way of opening up the channels so that we can all learn from each other and move forward together. Our younger colleagues have a lot to teach us as well as learn from us, sharing knowledge and experience goes both ways and benefits all who participate.

(For transparency I’m actually a Generation Xer, possibly the coolest of the generational categories).