by Andrea J. Fonte Weaver | September 17, 2018

Now is a good time for company leaders to consider the value of intergenerational training -- and that's not just because September is National Intergenerational Awareness Month. Cross-generational teaching can be a valuable way for everyone in the workforce to learn and grow. In addition to Millennials offering social media tips and techniques to older workers, company growth strategies and decision-making can be positively influenced when executives with decades of experience share their institutional knowledge and lessons learned. 

Too many people continue to maintain stereotypes of different generations, and often members of one generation believe those in the other "just doesn't get it" and the lack of cooperation creates incalculable unseen costs due to lack of collaboration leading to lost productivity. 

How can companies begin to help their staff break down stereotypes and build up multigenerational workforces? The first step is to recognize that ageism is very real but there are ways to overcome this. Below are some actions every organization can embrace and activate:

1. Get personal. Make time for people to talk about their personal lives so colleagues have the chance to see each other in a new light and form connections. Sharing what they did over the weekend or just a recent movie they saw, hobby worked on, book read or trip taken can bring out similarities and likenesses across generations in the room. When the setting is right, ask people what they are appreciative for, as we know expressing gratitude increases positivity.  

2. Share successes. You can't go forward without understanding the past. Ask your older workers how and why past projects succeeded and/or failed and what could be done differently now. Give them "the floor" to talk about specific skillsets and how processes changed with advancements. Younger workers also have successes to share; additionally, they may offer suggestions on how technology can help support future achievements. While these exchangers are professionally based, each generation can benefit from the expertise and experiences of the others. 

3. Create a multigenerational project. According to Allport's contact hypothesis (see diagram), to reduce prejudice, each team should have at least two people from each generation. They should all be peers working on a neutral project and everyone must contribute. For example, have the team design a new product, create an event, or arrange for a joint community outreach. They could also work on a project for the sake of this exercise, like creating a video on employees' attitudes about aging or retirement, or building a chair out of newspaper and masking tape. Working together on a project is the key to improved relationships.

Ultimately, to truly affect long-term change and foster multigenerational collaboration, companies should establish a team for the purposes of overcoming ageism and have representatives from each generation as well as a liaison with upper management. Together they should examine the company's policies, procedures and practices around generational issues. Additionally, they can identify ways that space and resources may be divided along generational lines and come up with pathways to build a company culture of inclusion. It will be worth it because when people of all ages bring their diverse experiences to the table, productivity is increased, money is saved, employees and team members are more motivated, and the company is strengthened. 

Andrea J. Fonte Weaver is founder and executive director of Bridges Together, Inc., an award-winning nonprofit organization, which empowers leaders to connect generations and transform lives. Individuals, communities and companies have joined Bridges Together using their educational training and tools to raise awareness and increase intergenerational engagement. She can be reached at [email protected]