Learning opportunities for young and old

PIcture of two hands - one old, one young

Photo credit – Jake Thacker via unsplash.com

We know that you can teach an old dog new tricks, but can the old and young teach each other things? I would like to offer a resounding “yes!” I think working with young people opens up this possibility. Recent research supports this. That’s good news for us all.

We have all had older people in our lives who have taught us things: parents, grand parents, aunts, uncles, family friends, people that you meet … What about the reverse though? Are you open to a younger person teaching you something?

Research about work and life experiences
The research drew on input from approximately 10,000 participants asking about learning and work and life experiences. Linda Gratton and Andrew Scott reported on the outcomes in their article entitled, What Younger Workers Can Learn from Older Workers, and Vice Versa. They asked the respondents what they were doing to build, maintain or deplete their assets – both tangible and intangible.

Defining things
The article suggests that building both tangible and intangible assets is important for a long and productive working life. They defined them as

  • tangible: physical assets eg property, investments, financial savings
  • intangible:
    • productivity – skills, supportive peers, reputation
    • vitality – health, managing work/life stress, and regenerative relationships
    • transformational capacity – self-knowledge and investment in diverse and extended networks
      (Gratton & Scott, 2016).

The article doesn’t define young and old but refers 40 as the bifurcation point. Young is below 40 years of age, old is 40+ years of age.

What the findings showed

Gratton & Scott, 2016.

Gratton & Scott, 2016.

Learning from older workers
The findings aren’t all that surprising. Older workers can offer young people the benefit of their experience. Where controlling work is concerned there are many things to juggle as a younger worker managing a career and family life. Having “been there and done that,” older workers can suggest strategies and approaches to dealing with the issues that arise at work, as well as sharing war stories. The benefits of this learning contribute to both career progression and work/life satisfaction.

Likewise learning how to be financially proficient is something young people can gain from their more experienced older work colleagues. This is all the more salient as people seem to be working longer and having to be more planful around finances for retirement. Economic circumstances may have changed but there are many lessons to be learned about making provision for the future with sustained, long-term strategies for acquiring such tangible assets.

Learning from younger workers
According to the researchers, a long and productive work life relies on developing relationships and networks. Diversity in these is critical and where the young workers can benefit their older colleagues. Many older workers can be lulled into a complacency about building networks and relationships. Younger people dealing with more diversity and change are well-positioned to share their skills in this area.

Juvenescence, the art of aging (sic) young, is important, and this naturally opens up an avenue for inverse mentoring of the young by the old.
~ Gratton & Scott, 2016

Building a reputation is something posited by the researchers as being an area where young workers can share their expertise with more senior workers. Why? Surely older workers know how to develop a reputation? In the 21st century  this requires engaging other means … “in a world where reputation is achieved not just through the linearity of a CV or conventional professional bodies but through the curation of social media.” (Gratton & Scott, 2016).

Growth mindset
A couple of years ago I met a 94 year-old woman. As a great grandmother, she communicated with the young people in her world, by i-phone. She texted her great grandchildren and did face-time with one grandchild living in New York. No doubt they were instrumental in developing her smart-phone skills.

Recently I met a man in his thirties who has made it to a very senior position, despite having no formal education in management. When asked he told me he benefited from a more experienced mentor who guided his career passage as well as learning by observing the mistakes of others.

It’s up to you … 
Whether old or young, people choose to learn and bring about personal change. That suggests interest (curiosity) in doing so and a willingness to work at something, believing it is possible (growth mindset). This does not reflect the approach of everyone. Maybe there would be if there was more appreciation for the benefits younger and older workers had to offer each other? What do you think?

Source: Gratton, Linda & Scott, Andrew. 2016. What Younger Workers Can Learn from Older Workers and Vice Versa? Harvard Business Review. 18 November 2016.

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