As one person’s career moves closer to retirement, another person’s career launches. This past year I’ve found myself pondering my role in the workplace as a 62-year-old baby boomer heading towards retirement far too quickly. Whether that is in three or 10 years, it is inevitable.
Because I’m surrounded by much younger colleagues – many in their energetic 20s or 30s – I’ve wrestled with my insecurities and, in particular, a fear of becoming obsolete or out of touch. The past eighteen months certainly heightened these concerns. Jobs were cut, hours were shortened, and difficult decisions were made by employers around the globe. I’ve spent some time thinking about the value that both younger and older team members bring to the workplace, and how we can work to create and maintain a healthy intergenerational environment.
1. Understand what your own strengths are and where they fit within the workplace.
Senior employees are keepers of organizational history and often, as is my case, have experienced the highs and lows, the growing pains that have made their workplace a better one. We can be role models and mentors for new, often younger employees, and we offer stability to an organization. Younger employees, however, can give a much-needed energy boost to the workplace. They come with new ideas, often a better understanding of technology, an awareness of emerging trends, and an ability to see things through a different lens.
2. Set resentment and defensiveness aside.
As my workplace grows each year, I find myself surrounded by a team of younger colleagues. They come with loads of energy and innovative ideas. They understand all the cool design programs and social media platforms much better than I do.
Sometimes I’ve struggled to figure out my changing role in the workplace, and there have been moments when I felt just a bit resentful and defensive, which is never helpful. There are times when tasks I enjoy are taken away and given to someone who simply has more skill in that area. I haven’t always handled this well, but if I take a breath and allow myself time to acknowledge these feelings, I can gain perspective and I’m less likely to take things personally.
3. Look to leadership for clarification if you are unsure of your changing role.
If I’m feeling unsure of my place in my organization, I find that it’s best to check in with leadership for clarification. When there is transparency around decisions that affect me, I am better able to manage them because I understand why they are necessary.
When there is transparency around decisions that affect me, I am better able to manage them because I understand why they are necessary.
4. Listen to new ideas with an open mind.
As ACHIEVE continues to grow, I have tried to take a good look inward – I’m not getting any younger, but the people around me certainly are. What I’m most afraid of is obsolescence – being viewed as someone who no longer adds enough value to the organization. To manage this fear, it’s helpful to ask myself, What might happen if I set this defensiveness and nagging fear aside and embrace the strengths of my younger team members?
Maybe my younger team members can teach me new skills and I can share the history and context behind why we sometimes must do things a certain way even though it doesn’t make sense on the surface. I might be able to help them understand why change is sometimes very slow, or why there is resistance to certain ideas. In turn, they may provide me with a fresh perspective on how to improve what we are already doing. As I work at shifting my thinking to be more open to new ideas (and sometimes to revisit old ideas with a fresh perspective), I am surprised by how much happier and productive I am and how much more I enjoy my team.
5. Remember your core values.
Regardless of the generational name that’s been assigned to our birth year, boomers and millennials alike want a respectful and collaborative place to work. My organization has five core values that help make this goal a reality:
- Embody – We practice what we teach.
- Engaged – We care about our mission and each other.
- Flexible – We pitch in where needed.
- Productive – We get things done individually and collaboratively.
- Receptive – We are open to feedback and improvement.
These values are the same for all of us, and if we all follow them, it really doesn’t matter if we’re 22 or 62 years old – we’re on the same track.
6. Be open to collaborating and learning about everyone’s skills and strengths.
My greatest takeaway has been this: When I collaborate with my younger, energetic, creative colleagues, I feel more energized and creative myself. As a team, we are much stronger than if we were to work solo.
I enjoy getting to know the people I work with – many of us create art, some of us share recipes, and others enjoy talking about books and movies. This feeds our collaborative spirit. While my younger colleagues sometimes move on to chase bigger dreams with so much adventure ahead of them, I appreciate what they leave behind. We are a workplace made up of multiple generations and each lends something special to the organization.
When I collaborate with my younger, energetic, creative colleagues, I feel more energized and creative myself.
Being part of an intergenerational, collaborative, and respectful workplace is what makes me want to come to work each day, and that’s what brings me joy.
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