Turning the generation gap into a competitive edge
published : 23 May 2016 at 07:54
writer: Arinya Talerngsri
The generation gap is hardly unique to Thailand, but our country also faces another major generational challenge as it is rapidly becoming an ageing society. By 2040, Thailand is expected to have 17 million people aged 60 or over, or 25% of the population, compared with 13% in 2014. In other words, out of every four Thais will be a senior citizen, according to the World Population Ageing 1950-2050 Report by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
When we talk about the generation gap in the workplace, we often see that the age difference is one of the main factors causing disharmony, misunderstanding and even disengagement due to diverse work and life expectations. As a result, we see negative consequences such as underperformance, conflicting values, reduced quality and productivity as well as difficulties in building team performance.
What’s more, workplace generational disparity is increasing around the world. The American Association of Retired Persons noted a calculation made in 2007 that by 2017, workers in Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the US, Italy and the UK aged 50 and over would make up more than 40% of the workforce and would be poised to retire in large numbers within the following 10 years.
Closer to home, we have also found that more than 65% of Thai organisations are now facing retention problems as a result of this generation gap.
As the workforce ages and young professionals enter the ranks, how are you going to manage conflict that arises from the widening generation gap and the loss of expertise as older employees retire?
If you don’t have this problem already, you will certainly encounter it soon, so here are some suggestions I suggest you start acting on today in order to prevent any more damage from this generation gap.
Search for proactive solutions to bridge the age gap: Certainly, acknowledging age diversity in the workplace is a crucial first step; managers should be able to foresee problems by being sensitive to the particular concerns of employees, their working styles, personalities and learning preferences. This will allow managers to act before conflict arises.
For example, it is known that Millennial workers tend to have strong convictions and place a high importance on the meaning and value of their work. As such, if their superiors are able to engage in open dialogue with subordinates to understand how they derive meaning from their jobs, then they will be better positioned to address issues they have later on.
Effective talent development can ensure long-term commitment from new talent: Creating a great leader does not happen overnight. It requires time, effort and a solid strategy. Talent management should be one of the most widely used tools to develop the next generation of talent in your organisation, or so you may think.
However, from my experience, I’ve found that a lot of talent management programmes end up being bad influences that can even cause Gen Y workers to quit. This is because the programme often involves assigning them to a project that is not linked to the reward and recognition system. This means they will have extra assignments on top of their usual responsibilities without being paid, or they might not be informed about how these extra tasks are helping them advance their careers. In such cases, they eventually will leave.
Therefore, line managers should first understand the different learning styles of their people. Then, they must go the extra mile to ensure that the right professional and personal development occurs at the right time with the right people, ensuring talent stays for long-term employment.
Transfer knowledge from the old generation to the new to strengthen your bottom line: Most of the time, younger workers lack the deep knowledge that comes only with experience and long-term career development. Yet, most companies have no plan to manage and transfer knowledge across generations.
Moreover, senior people often think younger people have short attention spans, and don’t investigate in depth while younger people think their older peers move slowly, and don’t understand how to leverage knowledge transferred via social and electronic media. Hence, since they don’t share media, there are limited ways to pass on knowledge.
However, leaders can succeed in this area by emphasising common goals and adopting the appropriate knowledge transfer methods once there is a shared understanding. These could include formal training or workshops, mentoring, coaching, or a job rotation system. The results can have a significant impact on business, i.e. the deep experience and market knowledge of the older generation combined with the fast research, wide communication and worldwide reach of social and electronic media can be a potent competitive edge for any organisation.
Lastly, I’d say that while the generation gap is a challenge that is here to stay, if we embrace common goals, open minds and more communication, I’m sure we can all make it through.
Arinya Talerngsri is Group Managing Director at APMGroup, Thailand's leading Organisation and People Development Consultancy. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or https://www.linkedin.com/pub/arinya-talerngsri/a/81a/53b
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