Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.
The workplace is an increasingly multi-generational affair, with baby boomers working alongside millennials and generation z. A growing number of organizations are deploying reverse mentoring programs to try and ensure a flow of knowledge from the digital natives in their workforce to older employees who may not have the same levels of digital fluency.
The researchers examined how inter-generational working functioned in the recording industry via both observation and interviews. The analysis found that the frequent churn of interns provided experienced executives with a constant array of insights into the cultural trends of the current time, with this directly translating into the creative output of the company.
The research showed that companies were increasingly proficient at extracting this cultural knowledge, through both formal and informal means. Interns were a key aspect of this informal process of understanding market trends, simply by their presence in the office. What they wear, the tools they use, how they speak and so on, all provide valuable insights into youth culture.
This was complimented by more formal approaches, such as intern-based focus groups, or the provision of low-stakes assignments for interns to share their cultural knowledge.
Despite these promising signs, the research found that collaboration between the generations was far from a forgone conclusion. Indeed, they found a number of tensions between the generations, due in part to the inevitable differences in age and experience. This can inhibit effective collaboration and mentorship between the generations, so the researchers urge organizations to try and overcome these tendencies to enable the generations to work more effectively together.
“To optimize collaboration, the acknowledgment of what each party brings to the table is critical. We need to make sure internships offer high quality educational experiences while also rewarding interns for their understanding of cutting edge trends. We should also address the often unspoken stigma of being “old” in youth centered field,” the researchers say.
- Frenette, A. (2019). Leveraging Youth: Overcoming Intergenerational Tensions in Creative Production. Social Psychology Quarterly, 82(4), 386-406. ↩