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What Older Workers and Younger Workers Can Learn From Each Other

The 'Back to Human' author on how shared learning closes the generational divide


(Excerpted from Back to HumanHow Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation by Dan Schawbel. Copyright © 2018. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.)

There’s a great cultural and technological divide between younger and older workers, but both can benefit from each other’s knowledge and skills in important ways.

While older workers have had years of experience, younger ones are more likely to have different perspectives from growing up in a very different time. Older generations have benefited from in‑person education and on‑the-job training and know the value of in‑person meetings. At the same time, they may not be as technologically adept as younger people.

And while those same young people may have collected a lot of trophies and ribbons growing up (admittedly, some of which were just for showing up), they also have learned about the power of social media and how to use it to connect with people of diverse backgrounds all over the world.

What Older Workers Can Teach Younger Workers

Here are a few things older workers can teach younger workers:

  • The struggles and setbacks of building a career and the importance of having years of experience
  • The soft skills that have helped them build the relationships that have made them successful
  • The loyalty that makes others on your team want to invest in your learning and development
  • The regrets they might have had in their career and how to not make the same mistakes
  • How to manage corporate politics that naturally occur in any corporation, especially larger ones
  • The skill to handle conflicts in the workplace and the wisdom to use those conflicts to actually solve problems and form stronger relationships in the aftermath

What Younger Workers Can Teach Older Workers

And here are a few things younger workers can teach older workers:

  • New technologies that will impact internal collaboration and their profession and industry and how to use them
  • The importance of diversity and how it can benefit the team, since younger employees are the most diverse in history
  • How change is inevitable, why the skills of today may not be as valuable in the future and how to learn new skills
  • Why they shouldn’t give up on their dreams — research shows that younger workers are more optimistic and can use that to inspire older workers
  • The collaborative mindset that will help older workers best interact with them, brainstorm, and come up with new ideas

Crossing the generational divide can advance your career and make it easier to manage older teammates. Think of this as a mutually beneficial learning situation that will help bridge those relationships in a positive way.

Jessica Latimer, the young director of social media at Alex and Ani (the jewelry retailer aimed mostly at young customers), admits that she has older colleagues who still don’t have social media accounts. Or if they do, they don’t understand how to use them. “I actually get excited by this and choose to see it as an opportunity to educate them and potentially propel them into joining a network,” she said.

Thanks to Latimer’s efforts, her colleagues benefit from staying relevant, while she has more advocates for her program — a win-win situation!

Although there are plenty of generation-related differences, as a team we have the common goal of performing our jobs, generating business results and hopefully building strong bonds along the way.

That’s why workers of all age groups need to come together and focus on the mission: fostering a culture in which everyone can continually learn and improve.

Dan Schawbel
By Dan Schawbel
Dan Schawbel, author of Back to Human, is a New York Times bestselling author, partner and research director at Future Workplace and the founder o both Millennial Branding and WorkplaceTrends.com. Learn more at DanSchawbel.com.

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