Abilities and strengths of all ages in the workplace

Posted by Lynda Shaw

Dr Lynda Shaw looks at new attempts by businesses to positively engage with older workers.

Workplace age differencesBetween 1946 and 1964 there was a sharp increase in the birth rate. This large cohort grew up to be a powerful mix of innovation, knowledge and strong ideals. As they begin to retire governments, businesses and society in general are discussing a ‘brain drain’, strain on pension payouts and fears around caring for those who are no longer able to care for themselves.

As such, fantastic new ideas are emerging to engage this group in order to keep them contributing to their community, continue earning and stay mentally and physically well. This is obviously the way forward, but have we considered what kind of beast we are working with?

This cohort is incredibly strong and perfectly capable to lead corporations, political groups and much more right into very old age. Great news, but we need to be careful they do not dominate too much otherwise the younger age groups will be overshadowed and perhaps undervalued.

This is why it’s important to understand the strengths and abilities of each age group in order to employ some sensible restraints, empathy and healthy inter-generational communication.

There is, of course, continuity with all generations; evolutionary change takes quite a bit of time. However, the influence society has on our development in our teenage years helps to make each age group different.

As teenagers our brains ‘prune’ away neural connections that we no longer use. This renders the brain more efficient to handle things we do with greater complexity. At the same time our brains are ‘sprouting’ new connections stimulated by what’s going on around us. As a consequence our environment during this period has a great influence on who we become.

For example a person who was a teenager in the 1960s-1970s was exposed to anti-war demonstrations, the Beetles, the first man landed on the moon, Martin Luther King made his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, freedom of birth control and chants of ‘peace man and free love’. Even the most sheltered teenager was aware of this in the West.

This was an idealistic era and those who were strongly influenced by it remain idealists. They are excellent at customer service because they want to make a difference. They are superb at ideas if allowed to think outside the box. They want to learn new things and feel energized and free when offered training as long as they feel confident they’ve still got what it takes. This is where the employer can help by encouraging development throughout everyone’s working career.

What of the teenager of the 80s/90s? Manufacturing moved overseas, Live Aid raised money to help famine in Ethiopia, the internet came into people’s lives, unprecedented advances in technology, multiculturalism and the blessings of peace in the West and financial prosperity.

This group is comfortable with diversity and recognise the need to change and develop if they are to stay ahead of the game. They fully embrace training and wish to evolve as managers and leaders. That said, they are also excellent at working in teams. It is important to keep this group interested in their work as they can become disillusioned with perhaps a mid-career crisis.

The youngest cohort were teenagers at the beginning of the 21st century. Globalisation, technology and economic growth continued to develop at a faster pace than ever before. This however, was juxtaposed with environmental and energy concerns. Large organisations and governments continued to demonstrate weaknesses and corruption.

As such our young people are serious and responsible and they expect others to recognise this. They are quick to learn, but dislike long drawn out training courses. They prefer to learn and contribute to the company at the same time. They expect constructive feedback in order to progress and do not identify with hierarchy, management barriers and distrust governments and corporations . They also recognise that there is more to life than work and consider the ‘bigger picture’ in terms of the environment and energy saving. However, if engaged properly their ideas and dedication are second to none.

Of course there are other factors to consider such as how each age group cope with today’s pressures, but that’s for another day. When we consider who people were in their teenage years, we gain a greater understanding of how they operate and what motivates them.





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