Volume 6: Aging Realities

The Generational DivideRoy

It seems that when news is slow, media outlets have a tendency to focus on youth culture: what’s wrong with it, how it is spiraling out of control, and how it has the potential to bring down all of the ideals and societal standards established by the generation previous.

In the 1950’s, Baby Boomers were bringing rock ‘n roll into the mainstream, and critics argued that it would destroy the conservative culture that saw our country through the Second World War. Generation X came of age with the counter-culture influence of MTV. And now, we see Millennials often portrayed as narcissistic twenty-somethings who can’t put down their smart phones or save up enough money to move out of their parents’ house.

It is a discourse that will perhaps never be put to rest. But, as we continue with our theme of diversity in the workplace, it serves to highlight an important issue: level of experience and generational values are a crucial aspect of company culture which should not be ignored.

Experience: An Important Factor in Workplace Diversity

Perhaps the increasing number of articles attributing the downfall of society to America’s youth can be blamed on the ‘get off my lawn’ attitude of the generation that came before them. But age and experience are important aspects of workplace diversity that are often overlooked. Possibly because it seems like such a no-brainer: wouldn’t you want to hire the most experienced individual for the job?

The answer, surprisingly, is “not necessarily.”

This is How We’ve Done it for Thirty Years!

You might find that more experienced workers have become set in their ways. While they can effortlessly maintain the status quo thoroughly and competently, they are less likely to look for ways to innovate or find creative solutions to pressing problems.

I once heard a story from a young professional in the industry who found himself to be a cog in an extremely inefficient system. When he questioned his more experienced co-workers, wanting to know why they continued to allow time and resources to be sapped away from the tasks at hand, they continually told him, “This is how we’ve done it for thirty years!” The company, he found, was stuck in a horrible rut, and all of his attempts to change this were met with fierce opposition by his more experienced colleagues.

This mindset can seriously hinder plants looking to bring operations into the twenty-first century by implementing new methods and technologies. You might find that more experienced workers are resistant to change, and are instead more comfortable doing things the way they were taught, with both good and bad habits firmly grasped.

Additionally, it’s possible that more experienced workers are simply tired. They may lack the optimism and enthusiasm of an individual new to the workforce, which is a problem considering more experienced employees often come with a larger price tag.

Advantages of a More Experienced Workforce

Of course, you’ll find that there are also significant advantages to hiring more experienced employees. Most significantly, and perhaps most obviously, experienced workers have just that: experience. They have seen it before, and their professional knowledge allows them to act quickly and appropriately in difficult situations. Similarly, employees who have previous experience in the industry require less training and supervision in order to get the job done, saving valuable resources.

It’s also important to note that experienced employees are what you might call a known commodity: they have a proven track record of success, and you can therefore depend on them to deliver the work you expect without any power posturing. His status is established and gives him confidence in his ability to execute and give orders. Not just that, but it also gives those reporting to him similar confidence. A few grey hairs (if there’s any hair left,) can sometimes inspire faith and calm an otherwise combustible situation.

Rock ‘n Roll Hasn’t Destroyed the World – It’s made the World More Interesting

When the Beatles first came on the scene in America, their music was seen by some to represent the hedonistic, narcissistic attitude of the day’s youth – and yet, the Beatles went on to change the face of music forever, and the teenagers of the day grew into productive members of society after all.

Just as in music, the workplace is invigorated by a mixture of old and new methods, and a team experiences a greater exchange of expertise, ideas, and creativity when it contains both experienced and entry-level employees. As we’ve examined, a more experienced workforce can provide reliability and minimal risk because their past experience can be accounted for. But you may have to relinquish the adaptability and creativity you would find with a newer crowd. As we discussed previously in our “Talent Realities” series, you just have to ask yourself what type of culture you’d like to establish in your plant.

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