Passing the Knowledge Baton from One Generation to the Next

Image: Passing the Knowledge Baton from One Generation to the Next

Passing the Knowledge Baton from One Generation to the Next

Four generations (Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Ys) are working side-by-side in the workplace. While this can be advantageous for a number of reasons, it can also lead to issues and, in some cases, disengaged employees. Nearly one-half of Canadians admit to experiencing a clash with an older or younger co-worker. Four in 10 say that these kinds of workplace clashes add challenges to their jobs.

However, surveys also show that about one-quarter of those asked feel that a multigenerational workplace provides learning opportunities.

As older generations transition out of the workplace, knowledge sharing is an area that is especially important for employers. HR leaders recognize that knowledge sharing is an excellent way to ensure a steady supply of informed and knowledgeable employees. It can also reduce potential conflict at work by increasing understanding of work processes, past decision making, and corporate history

If organizations do not understand differences between generations and work to bridge those differences, problems can arise.

The Four Generations at Work

In a broad perspective, there are certain life-defining events that happen during each generation’s coming-of-age period. These events help shape the values and expectations of the members of that generation. When a manager is able to understand how those events have shaped the attitudes of employees, he or she can then look for ways to create more integrated people practices that tap into the motivations of each generation and facilitate discussion and knowledge sharing between employees.

Organizations should focus on knowledge sharing in both directions. While the typical view may be that  experienced employees have more information to share, many younger employees have already worked abroad or have experience with new technology that can benefit older generations. Many Gen Ys are referred to as ‘scary smart’ due to their vast knowledge gained at a much younger age than previous generations.  Organizations need to recognize that years of service does not necessarily equal expertise and therefore encourage knowledge sharing top-down, bottom-up and laterally. But how?

Sharing Knowledge between Generations

There are a number of ways to facilitate knowledge sharing between generations in the workplace. A mentoring relationship (particularly reverse mentoring) is an effective strategy that allows employees of different generations to work together and learn from one another. Webinars, blogs, group chats, job shadowing, coaching are other excellent ways to share knowledge between employees. Meeting in smaller, more informal groups can encourage employees to speak to others they may not normally interact with on a day-to-day basis.

Each generation brings its own skill sets to the workplace and organizations can benefit a great deal by having their employees share this information with their colleagues. If the importance of knowledge sharing is stressed at an organization level and the culture of the organization puts emphasis on sharing, employees will “buy in” and work together to pass the knowledge baton and ensure future success of the team and the organization.

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