Full disclosure: I’m a Gen-Xer running a company that focuses on Instagram and TikTok.
Yep: I was born before the advent of the Web, mobile and social, but I’ve built a business focused on platforms whose primary user demographics skew toward generations younger than me.
It makes perfect sense that our company, in particular, seeks out talent who fall into the Millennial and Gen Z categories. But I do believe it’s vital for any business—forget tech, social media, or startups—to build a cross-generational team to maximize its potential.
This isn’t a kumbaya vision of inclusivity: there are tangible business benefits to embracing diversity of age and experience on your team. A World Economic Forum study found companies that invest in a multi-generational workforce benefit from greater productivity, retention and upskilling.
For the first time ever, we have a mix of five generations adding diverse perspectives into the global workforce. This diversity of age means companies have an opportunity like never before to embrace intergenerational learning, but it doesn’t happen accidentally. In fact, only six percent of workers believe that their leaders are effectively equipped to harness the benefits of a multigenerational team. I think it’s about time that changed: here are three takeaways from my own learnings in a multi-gen office.
Enthusiastically accept there’s stuff you don’t know
My business card may say CEO, but in my head, heart and actions, I’m an entrepreneur. To me, that means not always trusting in how things are done–a trait some might argue I share with my Gen Z colleagues. I live with a growth mindset—an idea popularized by Carol Dweck to describe individuals who believe they can develop and grow their talent through hard work and lessons from failure. In essence, it’s about finding joy and opportunity in getting things wrong—a concept that has allowed me to put my ego aside and embrace learning from any age group
Related: Ageism is thriving—it’s time to act
For example, when we first launched Later, our director of content marketing, a Millenial, understood the power of influencers and the creator economy better than most of our team because, well, she was one. She’d built a substantial following through her blog and social accounts, and as her employer, we encouraged her not only to grow it, but to share her learnings with our senior leadership team. She may have had less years than them in the workforce, but her personal experience was uniquely relevant to our user demographic.
So much of maximizing your team’s inherent knowledge and generational expertise is understanding there’s much to learn from the past, but also much to gain from being open to the future. Planning, structure, and institutional knowledge are important—but so is adaptation and a willingness to learn.
Champion all experience levels and ages
Beyond shifting your own mindset, there are practical ways to spotlight the value of cross generational learning amongst teams. Identifying the specific benefits to your business to solicit buy in is a great place to start.
One of the key advantages for our company is that the varying levels of perspectives we receive from employees align with our customer base. Yes, social media users skew younger, but a big chunk of our customer base are entrepreneurs and business owners looking to solve business problems both on and offline. Having the business prowess of our senior leadership team, alongside the inherent digital knowledge of our mid and junior level talent may complicate discussions at times, but ultimately it leads to more thoughtful outcomes for our customers.
Respecting those who have put their years in on the front lines is important, but we also shouldn’t assume more junior members of a team don’t have value to add, especially as the world is changing at an ever-more rapid pace. One of the best ways to avoid over-valuing hierarchy is to implement age-agnostic systems that are fair across the board.
At our company, all employees, regardless of their seniority level, go through the same onboarding process. Likewise, we don’t negotiate on salary. If you’re hired for the same scope of work as a colleague, you can rest assured you’re being paid equally, regardless of your age.
Create ongoing opportunities for two-way learning
One of the key features of a strong multi-generational team is two-way mentorship. This doesn’t always happen organically. We’ve found creating specific scenarios for intergenerational interactions helps facilitate the transfer of knowledge.
For instance, our lunch-and-learn series is a chance for team members to share about a passion or area of expertise in a quick presentation, from three random team members chosen every two weeks. I always pick up a little something (like how to care for succulents!) but, more importantly, I gain perspectives from all levels of the company.
During in-office times, we do desk swaps, mixing up the seating plan to ensure inter-department mingling. Because departments can often be (unintentionally!) age-segregated, this avoids generational silo-ing on a day-to-day level and allows for spontaneous, two-way knowledge sharing. Similarly, our Hack Week breaks the boundaries of office hierarchy and departments to mix things up and pressure-cook (in a fun way) a bonding experience.
There are real benefits to having an age-diverse workforce: not only do you better represent your assorted customer base, there’s also ROI in making your employees feel valued, regardless of when they were born or how immersed into the world of TikTok they may be. The team members themselves get plenty out of it, too, whether that’s through mentorship or getting the chance to keep up-to-date on trends. The underlying principle is really no different than that of effective leadership: respect your people, celebrate diversity and create an environment where everyone feels like they belong.