In this post, the third of four on how to tap into your multigenerational workforce as a training resource, we focus on the core of today’s workforce—Generation X to late Boomer age workers.
The majority of today’s workforce is either part of Generation X or the late generation of Boomers—in other words, they were born between the mid 1950s and early 1980s. It goes without saying that many workers in these generational categories are at the prime of their careers. However, they are also part of the “sandwich generation.” This means that beyond carrying high levels of responsibility at work, they are often caring for both children and aging parents—a situation that can stretch anyone’s time, energy, emotional reserves and finances to the limit.
Given the notable differences between most Millennials and Generation X to late Boomer age workers, tensions can and do arise. For example, while younger workers with few personal obligations may be willing to let a meeting go overtime at the end of the day, older workers may need to abruptly leave to pick up a child from school, get to a dance recital on time, or check in on an aging parent. In addition, situations that younger workers often take for granted (e.g., the ability to move from New York to San Francisco to accept a promotion) may prove inordinately complicated and even impossible for workers with children and aging parents. However much they are defined by their careers, mid-life workers are frequently juggling personal complications that few young workers can fully appreciate or understand. All things considered, however, there is much to learn from how this demographic manages both their work and their lives.
Compromise and flexibility: For many people, having children quickly destroys any expectations about achieving “optimal” working conditions—there is never quite enough time or space. While this is by no means ideal, it means that many workers in mid-life fully understand the necessity and value of compromise and flexibility and this often carries over to the workplace.
Multitasking: Raising children and/or caring for aging parents often requires one to engage in extreme forms of multitasking. Meal preparation, child pick-ups and homework assistance may all need to happen simultaneously under great chaos. Indeed, multitasking at home with children may make any multitasking that takes place in the workplace appear relatively easy by comparison.
Leadership: Parenting may be one of the best ways to develop leadership skills. After all, it means setting boundaries, maintaining them and doing so in a way that is consistently supportive and good humored. Translated into the workplace, the same skills can be used to lead employees in a consistent and positive manner.
Soft Skills: Communication, collaboration, adaptability and conflict resolution are among the so-called “soft skills” that continue to gain currency in the workplace. For obvious reasons, people managing complex family dynamics often have especially well-developed soft skills.
Life-Work Balance: While there is no doubt that mid-life workers are often under extreme stress on a personal level, they are often also more realistic about setting limits (e.g., not responding to work emails and texts after a certain hour, on the weekend or while on vacation).
Of course, mid-career workers offer more than insights into how to strike a balance between work and life. People born in the late 1950s to early 1980s are a notoriously progressive demographic, sharing many of the same values now associated with Millennials, and are the demographic that oversaw the re-engineering of the workplace in the wake of the arrival of networked technologies and more recently, the demographic that has fueled the rise of the so-called Creative Class. In other words, they have been the driving force behind several dramatic shifts in the organization and nature of work over the past three decades. In this respect, mid-career workers are also typically the demographic most able to help clearly conceptualize how an organization has developed over time and predict where it is likely to go next.