It wasn’t that long ago that Baby Boomers were worried about Millennials and then Gen Zers in the workforce. They fretted about how to encourage the younger generations to be responsible and productive, and how to get these digital natives to put their cell phones away long enough to build the meaningful relationships critical to long-term employment.
Today the conversation has changed. A shortage of skilled workers coupled with an uncertain financial outlook in retirement is bringing Baby Boomers back into the workforce. This influx of a generation that traditionally is in retirement is introducing ageism challenges, a new dynamic in the diversity, equity and inclusion equation. This time, the Millennial managers are concerned about how to integrate the Boomers with their age-other peers, while addressing the skills gap the Boomer hires bring to the workforce.
Providing the organizational framework for building strong and collaborative age-other relationships will make the transition easiest for all concerned. Here are a few ideas to ease the transition for your staff:
1. Set communication standards. Set guidelines and be specific about how information is communicated. While Boomers are comfortable with email, they may not be familiar with texting and chat tools for more immediate information exchange at work. Make sure that everyone on the team has access to the tools and how to use them. Remove the potential for a situation where a back-to-work Boomer is checking email for a meeting invite when that information has already been messaged on Teams or Slack.
2. Encourage peer-mentoring. In today’s workplace, traditional mentoring is being replaced by a reverse mentor, or peer-mentor approach where younger employees teach older employees what they need to know, particularly around technology. A lot has changed in the past five years. Technology and remote working are just two factors that are driving changes in the workplace that Boomers could use help with.
In exchange, the Boomers can help the younger employees with soft-skill mentoring for leadership development, customer interfacing, integrity and work ethic. This makes for great mentor-pairing opportunities between a Boomer and a Millennial or Gen Zer.
3. Provide access to microcredentialing for upskilling and reskilling. In today’s work environment, where relevant education outweighs experience, use of microcredentialing can level the playing field for all age employees. Keep in mind that a collateral benefit of this type of training is the shared experience that brings a team together. Invest in training relevant to your business and encourage all team members to take part in it.
4. Build age-diverse teams. Age diversity is a benefit to any team where the corporate culture fosters a work environment where all views are heard and welcomed. Encourage team members to recognize that the team’s diversity is a significant factor to what makes it strong.
5. Have the team define their purpose. Teams are more effective if they see themselves as collaborators, working together for a common purpose. Have them address “Why does this team exist?” and “What will this team accomplish?” Make sure the team revisits these questions when milestones are met, or the team’s composition changes.
Reflective questions can also build a team’s confidence, such as “What are we doing well on, as a team, to meet our goals?” Reflective questions that explore how a team could work better and to identify missed opportunities will build the effectiveness of the team. Remember, the point is to encourage different perspectives and learn from the process.
6. Identify biases and eliminate them through awareness. We all make assumptions about other people. However, these assumptions foster bias and encourage stereotyping that can have a negative effect on a work environment. Create a meeting space to discuss the assumptions we make to check their validity. As people get used to recognizing that they make assumptions, expressing their assumptions and learning that the assumption is not valid, they will begin to build cross-generational intelligence that is not hindered by bias.
For example, an older person might interpret a younger person’s use of a phone in the middle of a discussion as a sign that they have checked out of the conversation, when in fact, they may be taking notes or looking up information to support the discussion. Bringing the assumption into the open provides the opportunity to explore how the older person might choose a different mindset when this happens, or how the younger person might indicate what they are doing so their actions are not mis-interpreted.
The emphasis of relevant education over experience and the continued pace of change in technology has served to level the playing field in the workplace across generations. Providing the opportunity to develop strong, collaborative, cross-generational relationships is what will build a strong team and allow for integration of the returning Boomer population into the workforce with benefits to all concerned.