Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the foremost workplace multi-generational expert speaking with a cross-generational voice. Phyllis brings the power of cross-generational conversation and collaboration to solve the problems and nuances of attracting and retaining clients and employees of different generations, effective multigenerational teams, knowledge transfer and succession planning. Her newest book on generational challenges is You Can’t Google it! The Compelling Case for Cross-Generational Conversation at Work. President of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consultancy, Phyllis is a speaker and blogger on intergenerational relations issues for Forbes.com, Next Avenue, Legal Executive Institute, IRIS.xyz and others. Find her on Twitter @phylliswhaserot and on LinkedIn.

How many generations are working together in a typical office environment? What are some of the key business imperatives for facilitating effective communications for those groups?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot: It is now possible to have members of up to five generations working together. In most cases there are more likely to be three generations in an organizations’ workplace or working remotely: Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials.

I’ve identified 10 factors that provide a strong business case for effective communication and collaboration among all generations. Here are five benefits all firms and other organizations want:

    • Attract and retain desired employees
    • Attract and retain clients, customers and other external stakeholders
    • Reduce turnover costs
    • Avoid age discrimination litigation
    • Increase and facilitate knowledge transfer at all levels

In your book “You Can’t Google it!” you note, “Beyond being liked and respected and rewarded, what people want to feel at work is that they are relevant.” How does the challenge to feel relevant differ for people in different generations?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Ageism, both older and younger, is sustained by stereotypes that individuals sometimes believe against their own interests. Typical fears held by members of each generation (though not true of all members of a generation) affect their feelings of relevance and confidence.

For example: Millennials may typically fear not being regarded as “smart,” and fear failure, especially younger ones who have little real world experience. Gen Xers may fear not getting their turn to be top management, being leapt over by Millennials, and facing Boomers who are not letting go or transitioning clients and other work relationships.

Boomers often fear being considered “over-the-hill,” with Gen X and Millennials wanting to push them out or out of the way. A stereotype exists, frequently false, that they can’t or won’t learn technology and other new processes and strategies.

You also write about “succession urgency”. What is that, and why should employers pay attention?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot: What I mean by the term “succession urgency” is the need to prepare for people transitioning out of key positions, as well as knowledge and work relationships transfers.

Here are 5 reasons there should be widespread urgency about succession:

    • Large number of Traditionalists and Boomers are eligible to retire now and soon. How many really will?
    • There is substantial potential for loss of clients and customers without knowledge transfer and succession strategies in mind. This must be addressed with business imperatives in mind, aligned with client needs and preferences, in order to achieve sustainable organizations.
    • There is a counter-trend in some industries (e.g., health care), where they are bringing retirees back, usually offering flexibility to them in hours, locations and roles.
    • Firms need to avoid misplaced workforce spending. Older workers may net lower costs if they don’t need benefits or if their experience leads to accomplishing more in a shorter time.
    • Older generations can be bridges to retaining client business. Planning ideally should occur three-to five years ahead, not the last few months before a transition.

One of the solutions you put forward is a “role-shift program.” What does that involve, and how might it tie into the Respectful Exits Longevity Agenda?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot: Role-Shifts at the senior end involve seasoned people moving to new roles, providing opportunities for younger people to step into their (often leadership) roles while being able to stay productive with the employers in needed functions.

There are roles in organizations that are needed but have not yet been created. Obvious ones relate to training, mentoring, coaching, community relations, and exploring new market opportunities with younger workers. Today we all must be “career entrepreneurs.” Even many experienced Boomers are not used to this requirement for staying relevant and being recognized as such.

This concept ties into the Respectful Exits Longevity Agenda as far as career-long training, flexibility and phased retirement, and can bolster financial wellness. In general, I believe chronological age doesn’t matter (I recently was interviewed on a podcast on that topic) because it no longer makes sense for describing capabilities. I have been advocating that all generations collaborate on fighting ageism aimed at any age cohort.

'I have been advocating that all generations collaborate on fighting ageism aimed at any age cohort.'Click To Tweet

In your research, what have you discovered about people’s perceptions of working with multiple generations?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot: For “You Can’t Google It!,” I interviewed members of multigenerational teams in many different industries. Additionally, my consulting, speaking and facilitating work has led to many insights on this question.

Overwhelmingly, members of different generations see the value of cross-generational conversation and collaboration. They want to learn from others’ perceptions, experience and worldviews.

Barriers often come from employers not encouraging or giving people time for these necessary conversations. And individuals wonder who should start these conversations. My answer is, “Anyone. Why not you?”

photo credit: Phyllis Weiss Haserot