Topics on Aging

By Juan Gallo

What Can You Learn from Older Work Colleagues?

March 21, 2023

What Can You Learn from Older Work Colleagues?

Recently, I went to a leadership development conference and encountered a fact that intrigued me. 

For the first time in history, the workforce includes five generations working together in the same office. 

Why? Well, people are working longer. Some skip retirement all together or retirees launch a second career after concluding the first. At the same time, companies are hiring younger. 

Think about how each generation is represented in your own office. 

Generation Z are 22 years older or younger, born 2001 to 2020. The oldest Millennials are moving in their early 40s, born between 1981 and 2000. Generation X are in their 40s and 50s, born between 1965 and 1980. 

We frequently discuss how Baby Boomers are transitioning into retirement age, with the youngest turning 59 this year. Their generation was born between 1946 and 1964. 

The Silent Generation is the majority of the population Heart2Heart serves. Those born between 1925 and 1945 are at least 78 this year. 

The Generations Colliding 

It’s not far-fetched for a recent grad from Generation Z to work alongside someone from the Silent Generation, in their late 70s.  

We’ve seen that dynamic play out in our own offices at Heart2Heart. And it happens to an even greater extent among our volunteers, who range from teenagers to people who are the same age as the folks they’re serving. 

The tendency, I think, is for the younger generations to dismiss their older colleagues. They might think they’re out of touch or not well-versed in technological advances. 

However, it’s a mistake to assume that Boomers or those beyond (typical) retirement age don’t have the knowledge to keep up. And it’s an even bigger mistake to assume they have nothing unique to contribute. 

As an older Millennial who’s focused on serving the older population, here’s what I know you can learn from the older generations in your office.

Lesson 1: Common Sense

We’re living in a time where we have access to the most information the world has ever seen. When older generations were growing up, it was easy to be unaware of news or facts that we can find now with a quick Google search. 

However, without endless information at their fingertips, there was an opportunity for common sense. 

The older generations have a different mindset. They didn’t rely on everything being at their fingertips. People had to consistently think through a problem rather than finding the YouTube tutorial. 

I think that’s something younger generations lack right now. 

If your office includes some older colleagues, learn to benefit from their wisdom. Make sure they feel comfortable speaking up during meetings by asking for advice.

Lesson 2: Resourcefulness 

Along with the bevy of information, older generations had fewer resources overall, which created more resourcefulness. I think we could all learn to use what resources we have to their fullest extent. 

Along with that, the older generations were more handy as well. I have seen a new awakening for do-it-yourself crafts and home projects. However, fixing things yourself, repurposing used items and tackling tasks like changing the car oil were necessities long before they were interesting diversions. 

Ask your older colleagues what they enjoy doing by hand and learn from their tricks and tips. 

Lesson 3: Deeper Relationships

Today, friendships, colleagues and personal connections can easily span the globe. 

For older generations, their connections were smaller in number. However, the relationships they did have went deeper. 

I think the value system was different. Conflict didn’t spell the end of a relationship. You didn’t argue with a family member and cancel them from your life. 

Back then, the differences were still there. But despite those, people showed up. They accepted that conflict was a part of any relationship. 

The next time you’re embroiled in a conflict, ask someone older than you how they might handle it. Find out their best practices for maintaining friendships and relationships for the long run.

Lesson 4: Kindness 

I also think we could learn kindness from the older generations. 

I hesitate to say that there was a blanket kindness to all people. We know that some groups did not experience the common courtesy that was the general policy of society. 

However, kindness is highly underrated these days. There was an importance to appear a certain way in public that just doesn’t happen anymore. I think people are too comfortable to just blow off the handle when they get angry. 

We would do well to learn mindfulness of other people, respect for public property and patience for others despite differences. I think all of those have a place in an office setting.

For more tips, check out this workshop on understanding and leveraging age diversity at work.

Read more about:
Juan Gallo
Juan Gallo is the CEO of Heart2Heart Outreach, where he oversees the mobilization of volunteers to provide hope, share love and restore purpose to the lives of the aging population across South Florida.

He also serves as a local pastor and as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University, where he is teaching a course on diversity and aging. Juan has a master’s degree in counseling and psychology and is a licensed mental health counselor intern.

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Juan Gallo

This blog is a frank conversation about what it means to age in our society.

I want us to consider what a wider range of diverse experiences when we talk about aging. I want to reflect on how we, as a community, want our neighbors and our mothers and fathers and our grandparents to live out their latter decades of life. I want us to consider each one of their voices as we strive to meet their needs.

Join me for weekly discussions about what it means to be a senior in South Florida and how we can and should respond to the growing needs of the aging population.

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