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The Influence of Age on Change Management

Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z are working side-by-side, each bringing unique strengths, experiences, and expectations to the workplace. Along with opportunity, there are also new challenges with four generations working side-by-side. Getting the groups to work together efficiently is a key challenge for many organizations, and as technology advances, employees of all ages will need to be equipped with new and refined skills to stay current – and that requires the ability to manage change.

Managing Perception

Organizations going through change need to consider its population demographics, the perception of change, and how individuals might be impacted by new ways of working, new technologies or new business models.

Younger generations look at change as opportunity and may manage it better than their older peers. They hate to be bored and are used to over-scheduled lives with a string of activities taking them from one moment to the next. Raised by workaholics, younger workers are typically better at keeping things in perspective, which is why work-life balance is a pervasive priority among this generation. Meanwhile, aging Boomers have done their 30 years without the need to reinvent themselves or make broad stroke technology changes. Market drivers, younger workers entering the workforce, and new technologies are necessitating the need for reinvention and a plan for continual growth to remain relevant.

Does age influence an individual’s ability to manage change?

In some cases, age may be a factor in the ability to adapt to change in the workplace. Older workers have spent years establishing routines and processes, so being asked to do something different may take more adjustment than someone new to the workforce, who is learning for the first time, or hasn’t yet ingrained a habit into their work process.

How people learn and adapt can differ based on experience, age, comfort with new approaches, and how they feel about periods of discomfort.  With more electronic platforms, web-based learning, and the use of online or mobile apps to complete business processes, there’s an assumption that individuals know how to use available tools to get work done. While some Baby Boomers might be proficient with current technology, others need training to embrace new ways of working.

The collaborative nature of how work gets done also might require a shift in approach. Generation Xers, typically more comfortable with technology, might try to figure things out for themselves when making a switch to a new system or engage their network when needing help. Baby Boomers that are used to working independently may not thrive in a team model or feel comfortable seeking assistance when stuck.

Job tenure can also influence ability to adapt to change. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average job tenure for Millennials is nearly half of the current tenure of Baby Boomers. While Boomers have likely settled into a comfortable groove, Millennials are used to a world built on rapid change, constant stimuli, and boundary-less opportunity. While Millennials may not necessarily want to leave their employer, they look for a compelling reason to stay - new things to do, new ways to be challenged, skill development and mentorship.

Communicating in a multi-generational workforce

Accounting for differences in communication style is also key for managing multiple generations at work. Baby Boomers entered a workforce that relied on phone calls, later incorporating email. Generation X are heavy email users, but they tend to more heavily incorporate texting into their communication repertoire. Millennials and Gen Z workers are digital natives, using texting, social media, video chat, and more – all from the palm of their hand.

Where you are in the organization – position, geography, age – influences communication style and progression of change. Want to get workers comfortable with new technologies and new ways of working? Host training sessions, pair people with power users, develop job aids and just-in-time training materials to boost confidence and drive new ways of working.

Coming of age: Change Management

Organizational Change Management (OCM) can play a critical role in addressing the people side of business, ensuring the culture is productive and built in the right way to boost morale. How can you drive change positive change and address the needs of all individuals regardless of generation?

Mix it up! Look at team construction and include individuals from a variety of roles, perspectives, and experiences. A team that has mixed generations will only be stronger.

Get input. Ask people’s opinions, take pulse surveys, and embrace transparent communication. With four generations at work, there is a lot we can learn from each other.

Be kind and respectful. Millennials are not the lazy, entitled, praise-seeking generation as they have been portrayed and all Boomers aren’t out of touch or living in the past. Stop Millennial hate. Retire OK, Boomer. Today’s workplace is about celebrating diversity.

Create mutual mentorship opportunities. Creating cross-generational mentoring can tap into the abilities and knowledge of the oldest and youngest generations by pairing them in mutual mentorship relationships. Boomers can train younger workers and help ensure knowledge is retained inside the organization and with more Boomers working well past expected retirement age, Millennial and Gen Z workers can help them stay current, master new technology, and keep up with the changing world of work.

Regardless of age, geography location, or role within the organization, one thing we all share is the goal to succeed. Everyone wants to do a good job, move up through the company ladder and see the organization grow. Embracing a plan for organizational change can help everyone in your organization better adapt to change and increase change adoption success.