Fitting into a multigenerational workforce

multigenerational workforce in a meeting

Imagine you are a 50-something job-seeker arriving at an interview. The person on the other side of the table—your potential supervisor—is half your age.

Moira Kelley
Career counselor Moira Kelley: Focusing on the similarities among your younger and older coworkers is the key to fitting into the multigenerational workforce.

It’s happening more and more. By the year 2020 we will have five generations in the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This is an unusually wide span, thanks to the number of older workers delaying retirement or returning to work after retirement. A 2015 Career Builder survey found that 54% of senior workers will rejoin the labor force after retiring from their current career.  

With Traditionalists and Baby Boomers on one end, Generation Z on the other, and Generation X and Millennials in the middle, there are plenty of chances for generational friction in the workplace.

Members of Generation Z (born in the late 1990s and after) are just hitting the workforce, so we don’t know much about what they bring to the table. But Millennials (born from the early 1980s through the ‘90s) have shown a willingness to shake things up. Traditionalists (born from 1925 to 1945) and Boomers (born from 1946 to 1964) have been stereotyped as set in their ways, so you can see how sparks might fly.

But they don’t have to. Jennifer J. Deal, a researcher with the Center for Creative Leadership and author of Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground, has found that regardless of generation, workers have similar values. They all want respect, want to trust their leaders, and want to learn. They are all uncomfortable with change and desire feedback.

That means it’s easier to fit into the multigenerational workforce than you might think. Deal’s research suggests that focusing on the similarities among your younger and older coworkers is the key.

Whether you’re searching for a job or just starting one, here are some tips for success.

Realize that everyone struggles with change. People assume that older workers resist transitions, but their Millennial colleagues are likely having just as hard a time.

Look for ways to learn from people of other generations. Older workers can pass on their knowledge and management style to keep an organization strong. Younger workers can bring a fresh perspective to keep an organization from becoming stale. If you can learn to leverage these complementary strengths, everyone will benefit and the organization will thrive.

Avoid stereotyping. When you pigeonhole others, you risk isolating yourself. Instead, look for opportunities to connect with people from all generations. You can do this through volunteer work, service clubs, and educational programs, or by joining committees within your organization. These experiences will help you become more comfortable around people of all ages, whether you’re trying to find a niche in your current job or seeking a new one.

So, at your next job interview, don’t panic if the person on the other side of the table is half your age. There’s no reason it can’t be the start of a great working relationship.

Moira Kelley is a senior career counselor in UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies. She can be reached at: moira.kelley@wisc.edu. For more information, see continuingstudies.wisc.edu/advising or call 608-263-6960.

This story originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Leave a Reply