Youth could very well be wasted on the young, but to hear them tell it, work is wasted on the old. Or at least older.
A new study from KPMG, the mammoth professional services firm, illustrates a new workplace clash they’re dubbing “age warfare,” which apparently presents an entirely new threat to office productivity. And even though it was specific to the United Kingdom, there’s little doubt the same office tension runs rampant here in the States, as well.
The bean counters polled roughly 1,500 workers, spanning five generation and discovered a growing, disquieting resentment of older workers by their up-and-coming peers, who felt they were prevented from upward career mobility by what I suppose you could call a generational, or geriatric, ceiling. And it doesn’t help that lingering economic atrophy, which decimated so many retirement accounts, is holding those same older employees from moving on into retirement.
Almost half of the younger workers, 46 percent, agree their older colleagues “need to retire so that younger workers have a genuine chance of career progression.” And maybe even more unsettling is the lack of faith these younger workers have in their older counterparts, with only 20 percent of them believing they have anything to learn from the more experience among them.
But, as those of us caught somewhere in the middle of this generational crossfire (nearing 43, I can identify with both sides of this battle) it simply doesn’t have to be this way.
And it doesn’t help that even boomers themselves are often split among themselves.
“As people remain in the workplace for longer, older workers will inevitably constitute a larger proportion of the workforce. Although this may breed the pernicious perception that the younger generation will lose out, this does not have to be the case,” says Robert Bolton, partner and co-lead of KPMG’s HR global centre of excellence in a press release. “Far from it – an older workforce brings a wealth of experience and Baby Boomers can potentially adopt the invaluable role of coach or mentor to those entering the workplace. The companies who succeed will be those who take advantage of what older workers can bring to the table, in a way that is both innovative and inclusive. They will be the ones who can find a way for the Baby Boomers in their workforce to be enablers for the young rather than blockers.”
Intuitive benefits managers and human resource personnel can help foster better communication between these factions and brokers some kind of peace and tap the experience of the older workers for the benefit of everyone. Not to mention that aging boomers can use all the help they can get when it comes to finally retiring.
And the ambition younger workers bring to the table can be better channeled, as well.
Or as Bolton points out, “New entrants to the jobs market are unafraid to challenge the status quo, with many refusing to accept that things should be ‘done this way’ just because the current method has always been the one to use.”
This challenge of the status quo is what sparks innovation and better workplace efficiencies, as long as it's tempered with the wisdom of experience.