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5 Generations Are Now Working Together: Here's How Smart Leaders Are Making the Most of It

Because wisdom is not governed by age but rather by knowledge, expertise and curiosity to grow, the future of a successful organization may depend on mutual mentorship and speed mentoring.


A group of people sitting around a table in an office.


​As age-diversity in the workplace is becoming more pronounced, leaders should cultivate a mutual exchange of knowledge to bridge the generation gap.

Leaders across America are currently facing a unique challenge: the largest generation gap in history. The workplace is now more age-diverse than ever before, with five generations--Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z--working side-by-side.

This age diversity among employees can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. While the different attitudes and communication styles between different age groups might lead to misunderstandings and conflict, you can also take it as a rare opportunity for a wealth of knowledge and experience to be shared between generations. By cultivating mutual mentorship in your organization, you can make the most of this diverse workforce.

We often view mentorship as a one-way street, with senior executives taking fresh graduates under their wings to help them develop their skills and grow as professionals. However, as more Baby Boomers are returning to the workforce after retirement, they may need assistance from younger generations to adapt to the changes in the modern workplace.

Chip Conley, best-selling author and renowned hotelier, knows firsthand that knowledge transfer works both ways. Conley gained this insight while serving as an adviser at Airbnb, coining the term Modern Elder to describe senior executives who are not only sharing their wisdom but are also open to receiving mentorship from their younger counterparts.

Here's his take on how business leaders can make the most of this generational gap by fostering mutual mentorship in their workplace.

Bridging the gap with mutual mentorship

Generation Z began entering the workforce in the mid-2010s, and currently, Millennials make up 35 percent of the total workforce. By 2030, it's projected that both generations will make up almost 74 percent of the workforce. Until then, Baby Boomers and Generation X, which make up more than half of the current workforce, have a chance to act as Modern Elders to guide the younger generations and, at the same time, upgrade their skills to adapt to the post-pandemic work environment.

Conley believes that the future of a successful organization depends on mutual mentorship. Wisdom is not governed by age but rather by knowledge, expertise, and curiosity to grow. And it's this perfect alchemy of curiosity and wisdom that sets Modern Elders apart from traditional mentors. They not only possess good judgment, specialized knowledge and a large network of contacts, but they're also self-aware, humble and hungry to learn new ideas.

Moreover, the younger generations have their own unique form of wisdom. Millennials and Generation Z have the advantage of growing up with the internet and rapid technological advancement, acquiring a skill set that could benefit Baby Boomers and even Traditionalists. But the unfortunate reality is that younger employees are far less inclined to share their knowledge with their older peers for fear of causing conflict or embarrassment.

This is where leaders come in.

Leading by example

The first step to cultivating a relationship of mutual mentorship among different age groups within your company is to become a Modern Elder yourself. Regardless of your age or that of your team, try to dedicate time and effort to act as a mentor to your employees.

Here are simple steps to get you started: 

  • Reach out to members of your team who you think would benefit from your expertise and who can also provide you with knowledge in an area that you want to learn more about.
  • Outline your respective roles and responsibilities, as well as the goals you both hope to achieve from this mentorship.
  • Allow for a respectful exchange of perspectives and experiences, even in your own area of expertise.
  • Finally, carve out a time in your schedule for questions and regular check-ins. 

This will get the ball rolling and showcase an ideal model of mutual mentorship that anyone in the company can replicate.

Speed mentoring

Instead of focusing on formalizing the mentorship process, try creating an environment that supports mutual mentorship in a group setting.

Conley recommends speed mentoring, which is a practice he had encouraged at Airbnb. Speed mentoring is basically a cross between speed dating and mentoring, with people being paired up and given a set amount of time to talk to each other about a certain topic. The goal is to provide mentees with a quick overview of a certain subject or field and allow them to ask questions.

The best part is, this practice allows for a more equal exchange of knowledge, as both parties are able to take turns sharing their expertise. By bringing together employees of different ages and allowing them to interact on a regular basis, you break down any barriers that may exist between different age groups. This promotes cohesion and productivity in your workplace, where all employees feel comfortable working together.

This article was written by Nick Sonnenberg from Inc. and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com. 


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