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What’s Age Got to Do with It?

By Iris Leon, member, EPIP Philly Steering Committee

We’ve all had that moment. The moment when our age smacks us in the face. I work on a college campus and I regularly have the opportunity to get a window into the minds of undergraduates. I’ve become increasingly aware of one thing: they’re young. Young in an “oh, isn’t that cute you still think the world works like that” kind of way. It’s frighteningly easy to hear students talk and be dismissive of their ideas because of their inexperience and naiveté. Don’t get me wrong. These kids are also brilliant. But I’ve come to realize that what’s so difficult about observing them lately has nothing to do with the content or intent of their speech. Rather, it just reminds me that I’m now moving into a different phase of my own life—that I’m not that young anymore. I’m just about to turn…wait for it…30! (I know, I know. Cue the eye rolls from anyone over 30 who thinks I’m a babe myself and shouldn’t be complaining.)

But this brings up an important question. What does age have to do with it anyway? And in a professional context, how do generational differences impact how we behave, are perceived by others, and engage with people? Generational differences in the workplace can make it difficult to communicate with colleagues and navigate an organization. We’ve all experienced those moments when we feel outpaced by younger colleagues, or unheard and unacknowledged by more seasoned professionals (which, apparently I’m becoming guilty of, though I thought that would never happen. Groan.)

So, identity crisis in hand, I attended a fabulous event focusing on intergenerational issues. Recently, EPIP Philly collaborated to host an Intergenerational Learning Exchange with the Philadelphia Region Organization Development Network (PRODN).* The event brought together people from different generations to learn new ways of leveraging generational diversity to meet individual goals and organizational needs. The 50 attendees included Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Generation Yers/Millennials.

The energy of the day was electric yet inviting. Integrating organizational development practices, such as appreciative inquiry, the event was designed to foster honest dialogue in a comfortable and safe space. We explored issues around power and influence, what the differences actually are across generations, and how we might work together more constructively.

But most importantly, it was a celebration of what we ALL have to offer. Every generation brings something valuable to the table. Whether in the workplace, or in social and family life, an appreciation for the unique generational perspectives around us only makes us better at what we do. If we draw upon our strengths, rather than judge and dismiss the ideas of others, we can improve our organizations.

And, if we built a human and incorporated the best of each generation, he, she, or Z might look something like this:

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Would you be friends with this person?

I would.

*All collaborating groups were EPIP Philly, PCOM M.S. in Organizational Development & Leadership Program, and the Intergenerational Working Group (check out the recent post about this group!).

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