How good generation management works


Age differences in the workplace are in-creasing

People & stories, 14.02.2020

Bringing different generations together as a team is an important success factor for companies. Work models are needed for each stage in life. ERGO shows how it can work.

Alt und jung arbeiten zusammen

Age differences at work are increasing. The Head of Procurement may well be 45 years older than a Trainee. The trend is expected to continue, with young people starting work earlier and older people staying on longer. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, by 2060 one in three workers will be over 65. In the workplace, Baby Boomers and Generation X are already being confronted with Generations Y and Z with their completely different ideas on how work should be organised.

Generations X, Y and Z

Generation Y (years of birth 1986–2000) focuses on “purpose”, while Generation X, also known as Generation Golf (1973–1985), puts high value on achieving and attaining positions of leadership. For the Baby Boomers (1945-1972), work and leisure are equally important − according to surveys conducted by the Charter of Diversity. 

For Generation Y, on the other hand, leisure is almost twice as important as work. Main keyword: work-life balance. For the youngest people, Generation Z (born from 2000), their level of well-being is particularly important. In these times of globalisation, they feel insecure, but have almost limitless opportunities, which brings along difficult life choices.

Bringing generations together as a Team

Katrin Weitz, Gleichstellungsbeauftragte bei ERGO

Katrin Weitz is Equality Officer and Diversity Manager at ERGO.

Katrin Weitz knows how different generations can work together as a team and how the equation X + Y + Z = success. The 57-year-old is Equality Officer and Diversity Manager at ERGO. As she puts it, “Our team is a good example. There are three of us. One colleague is in her mid-thirties and the other in her mid-forties, and I am in my late fifties, so we have Generation Y, Generation X and me as a Baby Boomer.” For 17 years, she has been working to ensure that employees have a choice, “and that”, says Katrin, “is precisely the key to good generation management”.

It is important for staff to know that they will not be disadvantaged if, during a particular stage in life, they take things a little easier for a few years. “If they are to succeed in the future, companies will have to offer work models for each stage in life, which includes meeting the differing needs of the generations”, continues Katrin. A Baby Boomer, for example, could slow down a little for health reasons. As could a young Generation Y father who doesn’t want to be too tired to enjoy time with his baby.

Embracing and binding employees

“We are already a caring company that attempts to embrace staff and tie them to the company. We have many possibilities and options from which staff can benefit, for example part-time management, home office, childcare and advice on looking after parents. Our employees now need to actually make use of what is being offered. However, it requires a change in people’s mind-set”, emphasises Weitz.

It is particularly important – as has been demonstrated by many internal workshops – for the generations to tolerate each other. She recalls, “We called our first generation work-shop “Stones Groupies meet Tokyo Hotel fans”, which caught the spirit of 2012”. The generations also agreed by the feedback provided afterwards, that trust is important for a good relationship and that a key objective is to minimise the envy factor. “On top”, she continues, “the desire for more leisure time is a rising trend, and I believe it's important for all of the generations”.

Generations learning with and from each other

Does one generation inspire another? If so, learning with and from each other can be life-long. Like the ERGO Group, more and more companies see demographic change as an opportunity and generation diversity as a success factor. If people can learn from each other, we can only benefit from having mixed-age teams. Compared with traditional training, it is even highly cost-effective. 

It is important to ensure that the age difference is large enough to avoid competition. Older staff should not feel that they have to keep their knowledge to themselves and young staff needs to accept that they have to explain some things to their older col-leagues. In the area of social media, for example. Katrin Weitz revealed, “a special gen-eration project is planned based on “reverse mentoring”. Mentoring the other way round. The junior coaches the senior.“

Similar projects at other companies have already demonstrated that generation tan-dems can be successful. An old dog can still learn new tricks! Knowledge is transmittable and learning is not a one-way street.

This article first appeared in German on zeit.de on 09.05.2019.

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