The Cross-Generational Workplace: Connected Or Entangled?

Bert Schulze

Have you ever heard the saying, “two sides of the same coin,” indicating there are two ways of looking at—and perhaps two different interpretations of—the same thing?

The Millennial Generation (also named Generation Y) is the largest employee group in today’s workforce. During the last decade, there was a lot of talk about the revolution that would occur when this next generation entered the workplace. A revolution was predicted that would influence the corporate culture significantly. Let’s take a look at where things stand today.

Born between the 80’s and 90’s, members of Generation Y grew up with omnipresent mobile communication, the Internet, and unlimited access to information anywhere and anytime.

Furthermore, some were raised by “helicopter parents” who took an overprotective or excessive interest in their lives. As a result, their behavior can lean towards overindulgence, and many are seen as lacking in resilience. It was said that classical incentive models will be replaced by self-determination as the new status symbol and that loyalty to an employer is a relic from the past.

Enough stereotypes? If not, here are some more.

There’s no doubt that the workplace would change, but what really took place?

We saw that employees who did not belong to the new rising workforce were struggling to find their place in the conversation. Many felt overshadowed by the premature praise of the coming generation and struggled to understand why (e.g., simple participation becomes something reward-worthy in the new world). Again, there are many stereotypes. You can find more here.

In the past years, I had the pleasure to run various teams at different companies. Today, I lead a product management co-innovation team. In this role, my team drives co-innovation with customers and partners for a brand new ERP SaaS offering, built for the digital economy. As the senior leader, I oversee a diverse team of 25 people across all four generations (their ages span between 22 and 60) and many nations (Indians, Europeans, and Americans, to mention just a few).

In my mind, the combination of various generations is like two sides of the same coin. And if you flip this coin over, you might be in for a surprise.

Cross-generational intelligence, Gen X mentoring programs are required to win

Over the past few years, as new generations joined us, I was curious about their point of view, their expectations, and observations, and was eager to bust some myths of the past. In addition, I wanted to get the point of view represented by Generation X (born between 1965 to 1984) to better understand how they felt about the new workforce.

Our company recently launched a program with the goal of celebrating all generations within our company by providing a platform in which employees from different generations form pairs across generations. Mentor and mentee provide distinct generational and personal perspectives on a variety of work-related matters and gain valuable insights from each other.

This triggered a vital conversation in my team and motivated us to this blog series with the goal of moving beyond bias and myth-busting stereotypes.

Within our team we have the advantage of all generations working closely together, and we collaborate with multiple generations of employees and customers each day. It’s not at all what pessimists have predicted.

Rather, the best of both worlds shapes our results. Across generations we can learn from and inspire each other and encourage organizational and business growth.

But let’s listen to what the people from different generations have to say. During the upcoming weeks, we will hear from them personally as they share their point of view.

Spin the coin to see, in the blur, a single shiny occurrence

If you take the coin and spin it, in the blur you will see one single shiny coin. Only if we bring all generations together will we win as a team. Organizations need to adopt quickly to get the best of both worlds working together.

Various generations have already changed life at work and left their mark on our company’s culture. But I can tell you from experience that it’s nothing employers or managers should worry about – diversity and inclusion are important to employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and innovation, which is the key to future success.

I will provide the interview link in a future post in this series.

Follow me on Twitter: @BeSchulze  and on LinkedIn.

The original version of this blog appeared on SAP Community.

About Bert Schulze

Bert Schulze is VP Product Management & Co-Innovation SAP S/4HANA at SAP