In Chicago's South Side, a young man is just beginning his career in a steel manufacturing firm and an older man is approaching the end of his career after 49 years on the job. These two men work closely together, despite their significant age difference. Christian Reyes is a Millennial. He was born in 1991. Millennials have been shaped by dramatic technological advances. The Internet has always been a part of Christian's life. He's on Facebook and Twitter. He appreciates the efficiency of text messaging, especially for setting up events. He's confident, adaptable, independent and entrepreneurial. In the few short weeks that he's been on the job as an intern, he knows what he likes (creative problem solving) and what he dislikes (monotonous tasks such as filing.) He believes that adaptation and assimilation, along with patience, are important skills for success. He admires leaders who have the ability to communicate direction effectively. He wants feedback from his mangers and to know that the work he does is valued.
Richard Swanson supervises Christian's work. Swanson is a member of the Silent generation. His generation was greatly influenced by the Great Depression and World War II. Technology advances in the last 10 years have changed how Richard works and lives. He's comfortable using a computer but he's not a fan of social networking. His cell phone accompanies him wherever he goes, but he doesn't use it for texting. He's loyal - 49 years on the job attests to that. He's disciplined, as evidenced by the files neatly lined up on his credenza and the strategically placed phone and computer on an otherwise barren desk. His guest chairs are carefully arranged to promote teamwork and collaboration. He's quiet but approachable. He attributes his success in the workplace to reliability, respect and fair treatment of others.
These two workers lunch together regularly. Christian turned to Richard for help in entering inventory data and was surprised to learn of Richard's mastery of Excel. Richard was pleased to hear good reports about Christian's work from the firm's general manager. Mutual respect and admiration grew between them.
Is Christian and Richard's relationship an anomaly in the workplace? According to a Society for Human Resource Management April 2011 survey on intergenerational differences in the workplace, younger workers think older workers are resistant to change and older workers think younger workers have a poor work ethic. Yet, Richard and Christian have succeeded in bridging a fairly wide generational gap.
Shabeena Khan, owner of, ESavvy Recruiting, a Chicago-based firm, has been in the recruiting business for 16 years. She maintains that older workers know what they want in a career and have a longevity mindset in the workplace. Younger workers, especially new graduates, take the approach of "trying out" a position. Her observations validate the findings in the SHRM report.
Richard and Christian's ability to get along in the workplace is the result of their willingness to partner - one as a mentor and the other as a protÃ©gÃ©. Richard knows the business and Christian has ideas for doing work better and faster. Both have something to gain from each other and in the process, the company prospers. It helps that Richard, as a member of the Silent Generation, brings to the table a keen sense of responsibility and unfailing loyalty to his employer. It also helps that Christian, as a Millennial, is open to coaching and looks for validation from his superiors. And both men share a strong commitment to teamwork.
Contributing Editor Leanne Fosbre is a senior summary plan description writer with HighRoads, an HR IT consulting company headquartered in Woburn, Mass. She partners with clients' vendors and legal counsel to create accurate, user-friendly and current summary plan documents. Leanne is a certified employee benefits specialist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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