I’ve never enjoyed hanging out solely with people just of my age group.
Personally and professionally, I get a lift from counting among my colleagues Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials — and I definitely am more aware by encountering, engaging and collaborating with each, individually and collectively. And that’s just counting “age” as diversity. There are many other components of diversity: gender, race, religion, politics, geography, national origin, veteran status — but I’ll focus on age here.
Mentoring is increasingly a two-way street, and even better a hub-and-spoke. As seasoned marketing and communications professionals, we have a lot of experience to share. But better believe it, I learn every day from younger colleagues — and I appreciate every lesson I get. Likewise, there’s always someone with more experiences (or different experiences) to keep an open door to. Here, too, I sponge. Simply said, there’s very little to “grow” by surrounding yourself with people exactly like yourself.
Yes, there’s community in like-mindedness. But even recognizing like-mindedness means continually challenging and exploring other points of view.
Here’s What I Learned in 2015….
• Student debt is burdensome: There’s no sense in comparing your experiences as a Boomer new graduate years ago to those entering the workforce today. Unless someone enjoys a full-tilt academic or athletic scholarship, chances are young adults are carrying a hefty amount of student debt.
Education inflation has far outstripped the cost of living — college costs today are a world away from what I experienced just three decades ago. As a result, very few grads can stand on their own at 21, even if they want to. Few starting salaries allow them to live on their own, while repaying debt. Families with grown children are staying together for longer, as an economic reality, at least financially so.
Is there a professional takeaway here? I’m not altogether sure how this affects risk-taking, or the timing to pursue advanced degrees, but the zeal to contribute in the workplace, and receive commensurate compensation, is perhaps heightened.
• You really don’t [have to] retire: On the other scale, woe to any business that sends senior execs packing prematurely. Some businesses might offer early retirement packages to move more expensive workers off payroll, or just lay folks off — but are they harnessing all that experience before they do so? Is there a knowledge sustainability plan? “Peak earning years” must translate to “peak productivity” — the dynamics of business no longer allow anyone to rest on his or her laurels and nominally contribute.
Alternatively, I’ve come across more and more firms who are “hiring back” would-be company retirees as contractors, and as project and long-term consultants. For the aging, many of whom have under-saved for retirement, this removes the shock of a suddenly missing paycheck and a perception of being no longer valued, enabling them to contribute to business growth while softening the financial blow. For business, where experience is a teacher, common mistakes of the under-experienced are avoided. The bell curve of post-peak earnings, and the idea of “retirement” are being redefined, out of necessity.
• Mentoring should be bi- or omni-directional: When a project team, or workplace environment, is cross-generational, there will be better outcomes. In marketing, where target audiences may involve one or more age (or other) demographics, it simply makes for a more informed strategy to have architects who share personal knowledge and experiences of the market. So older teaches younger, vice versa, with in-betweens, too. I know of agencies pitching new businesses who ensure such diversity is “built” into the campaign planning team. That’s smart.
Here’s to a healthful, prosperous New Year, at any age.