In the ever-evolving landscape of modern organizations, multigenerational workplaces are more vital than ever. With five generations in today’s workforce, companies have a unique opportunity to tap into and learn from diverse perspectives while inspiring fresh approaches to collaboration.
Recently, I connected with Marci Alboher, an author, speaker, and nonprofit leader with deep experience at the intersection of workplace and career issues, intergenerational relationships and aging with purpose. In our discussion, Marci shares her expert point of view while offering strategies for leaders to optimize the benefits of multigenerational workforces.
Laura: Your work centers on how older and younger generations can collaborate to solve society’s biggest problems. What has been the most exciting about your work recently?
Marci: Amid lots of talk about generational tensions, I’m increasingly seeing evidence that older and younger people value each other and the diverse skills, perspectives and lived experiences they bring to solving problems.
I’m in my fifties, so I’m especially heartened to see so many examples of younger people creating initiatives to tackle ageism and include the perspectives of older people. The Hollywood Climate Summit is a great example. It’s an effort fueled by young activists with an intentional intergenerational strategy – to ensure that the stories we see on big and small screens are infused with realistic treatments of the climate crisis that reflect the experience of people across a range of age and cultural backgrounds.
Another example is the start-up Cirkel, founded by Charlotte Japp, a millennial in her twenties who was so frustrated by the lack of age diversity in her first few jobs that she created a cross-generational mentor-matching service so that she and others could reap the benefits of a five-generation workforce. I’m a Cirkel member and every quarter I get matched with someone in their 20s or 30s who shares some common interest. We chat, try to find ways to support each other, and usually stay in touch via LinkedIn or other social media. As a result, I have so many younger people in my network I would have never met otherwise.
Laura: I’ve been focused on the evolution of work broadly and how we can learn from the past to create a more human-centered future of work. Your work is so critical to this. How are people making the most of the strengths of our intergenerational workforce?
Marci: For so long the conversation around generations at work has been driven by the generation that’s coming down the pike. As a GenXer who started my career in the shadow of the baby boomers, it was striking to see how millennials transformed the workplace. They created positive change in areas like DEI, healthy work-life boundaries, and social impact.
These days, there is plenty of speculation about how Gen Z will influence work. But savvy employers realize that slotting people into artificially constructed generational bands and thinking we all need or want the same things is futile. Creating a flexible culture that acknowledges difference will be more welcoming to people of various ages and life stages. Caregivers of aging parents (or others) value flexibility just as much as new parents. Organizations that look beyond generational stereotypes and work to build cultures that foster belonging and wellbeing for people of all ages and stages will be well-situated to build age-diverse teams and reap the benefits of the multigenerational workforce.
Laura: If you had to choose, what one or two things can leaders do to help their teams understand the benefits of collaborating across generations?
Marci: Here are two ideas that might work for a team meeting or retreat.
Try stepping away from the workplace context for a look at art and pop culture. Show the film The Intern or a video of Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett in one of their duets and then have a discussion about why older and younger people need each other and how cross-generational collaboration might produce creative problem solving or unexpected results.
Or ask everyone on a team to spend a few moments thinking about the first older person outside their family who taught them something, believed in them, or otherwise influenced them in a significant way. Get a few stories from the group. Then ask for volunteers to share something they recently learned from someone younger. Now it’s time to look around. Have an open conversation about how your team (or your entire organization) feels in terms of age diversity. If your workplace or team feels age-diverse, feel free to congratulate yourself. If only a few generations are represented, brainstorm how you might bring more perspectives to your work – either through intentional outreach in hiring, through consultants and advisors, or by partnering with other organizations that skew older or younger than your own.