The Opportunity of Intergenerational Collaboration

Social innovators – whose projects often help entrepreneurs identify society’s needs – are increasingly focusing on the ageing population. Our authors draw on their research to show how these social projects can inform corporations on how to tap into the growing pool of mature, experienced talent.

Life expectancy is increasing around the world and with it a higher percentage of older people in the population. This has a direct impact on the way we all live together and, in particular, on the global economy and health sector. For example, a significant portion of the experienced workforce is now approaching retirement as younger and less experienced talent pushes to join that workforce. While this may be considered a talent management challenge, it also means there is a growing market of mature clients who are still full of energy and appetite to build projects for the future. Thus, the combination of these two demographics in the workforce – older and seasoned workers vs young and green – actually presents a fertile opportunity for intergenerational collaboration, from both a social impact and a business management perspective.

Although there is much discussion around the value and best practices of intergenerational knowledge exchange, it is commonly regulated to a sub-category of human resource management or diversity initiatives. In some cases, professionals have developed their own informal “mentor-mentee” relationship with colleagues from other generations. For example, Airbnb employee Chip Conley, who has spoken openly about his personal difficulties connecting with a predominantly millennial workforce, cultivated a bi-directional mentor-mentee relationship with a millennial co-worker. The exchange helped both individuals develop the skills and competencies associated with the others’ generation. This type of initiative has a great impact amongst teams, though it appears that many of these instances arise from informal or serendipitous exchanges as opposed to corporate programs that could fully leverage the wisdom of the more senior profiles.

Research has found an increasing demand from European companies to understand how best to cater to senior talent and those in the later phases of their working lives. Subsequent research, also from the IE Observatory of Demography and Generational Diversity, on European companies shows that there is beginning to be a higher prevalence of formalized programs for intergenerational knowledge sharing, mostly taking the form of mentorship (from senior to junior, from junior to senior, or bi-directional). That being said, mentorship is not the only solution for an intergenerational strategy. In fact, there could be many more opportunities that are currently underexplored but which could add notable value to business and society.

Intergenerational collaboration beyond mentoring

There are other interesting strategies that leverage senior talent. For example, The Grey Matters Network (GMn) was established to address this gap in the intergenerational knowledge market and to make a space in the corporate world where experience can be utilized. Take, for example, the company that approached GMn “looking for mature workers for customer-facing positions because its customer base is 50-plus and it wants their customers’ queries to be handled by staff with similar life experience.” Engaging senior talent, experienced individuals who can better understand and empathize with these customers, is a strong strategy since those specific needs may not be obvious to a predominantly millennial workforce.

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