Book on managing generations in the company


The Four Dimensions of Age Management in the Company.

Stanisław Wojnicki
Warsaw: SW Mentoring 2015

okladka-plPolish demographic studies tell us that life expectancy keeps moving on; older people live longer because they keep in a relatively good shape both physically and intellectually for longer than before. There is an internet blog entitled “50 is the new 40”. This has an impact on attitudes at work, on patterns of leisure and vacationing, and further – on mentalities and needs.

At the same time, fewer and fewer children are born in Poland, and the society is aging. The same process is visible in companies: particularly in large, stable organizations with low turnover, the average age keeps increasing and vertical promotion opportunities for young people get scarce. Managers face questions about effectively managing teams with significant age diversity. Moreover, very often this diversity affects the managers themselves: a young manager with subordinates of the age of his or her parents may have problems just as a 50+ manager with a team of fresh graduates. It is in the vital interest of the company to prepare management teams to such challenges, as they are here to stay for a long time. In the year 2020, employees aged 48+ will represent over 38% of the total employee population in Poland.

Generations working together in a company may result in a clash, but if properly managed may just as well lead to synergies which will enable to unleash the full potential of the organization. Some companies today practically employ only representatives of two generations, particularly in the areas of technology or consulting. But others may not even realize they have on board as many as five, plus a sizable group of retirees who also have their place in the equation. Whichever the case, generation diversity is bound to emerge at various stages of the management process, and companies which not only prepare for it, but plan ahead and design ways of factoring it into their strategies will clearly have a competitive edge.

One clear example is that with advances in technology and the growing role of knowledge in manufacturing or servicing processes, the amount of information stored in the company grows exponentially, and some of it is key for the company’s competitiveness. The role of efficient knowledge management is becoming critical, in terms of selecting and capturing the right information, but also in terms of storing it, transferring and protecting from loss or theft. In this context the knowledge and expertise of key employees may become another challenge, as often it is not taught at schools or presented in any manual – the questions arise how to enable younger employees to gain access to it, but also – how to convince the seasoned experts to share their experience without fearing that once this is done, they will become redundant? Paradoxically enough, in the light of generational studies, it may prove just as difficult to convince the young employees to be willing to embrace and accept the experience and knowledge of their older colleagues.

Another example, vital to any company, is the behavior and expectations of the customers: they are part of the same society, so if the society ages, so do they. In 2020, Polish customers aged 50+ will represent 44.6 % of the total adult customer population. They will be almost 13 million, talking to call centers, visiting branches and points of sale, using telecom and IT products, asking for specific banking and insurance services etc. Most companies realize that the corresponding products must be adapted to that customer segment; it is however less obvious to also adapt customer service. Yet it seems self-explanatory that a discussion with a twenty-five year old customer might involve different patterns than with a fifty-five year old; it might prove useful to consider adapting various customer service components to the customer’s age, and one way of doing it might be to consider correlating the age of customers and customer service employees, and of course provide appropriate training.

In the next couple of decades Polish society will reach an average age of 40; already today there are over 9 million people older than 55. At the same time, the shrinking younger generations become more and more differentiated and modify their respective group attitudes faster than in the past. What is commonly referred to as Generation Y, mainly based on US studies and observations, seems to comprise in Poland two distinct groups quite different in terms of their approach to work, leisure and life in general. Companies need to adapt to this new reality, updating their business strategies and drawing conclusions not just for their product offer and customer service model, but also for their corporate culture and management systems.

If the labor market is shrinking and aging, and since Poland for the time being does not seem to be ready – unlike many West-European countries - for a massive influx of young immigrants from elsewhere, another interesting question is how to make use of the skills of retired employees. There are many aspects of this: impact on employee engagement, the role of continuity in the company’s culture, the pros and cons of resorting to temporary employment in filling vacancies or gaps, but also the potential for capturing - again – the knowledge and expertise of selected former employees, not only for performing internal tasks but also interfacing with selected segments of customers.

This whole universe can be described along four dimensions, three of which are employees, managers and customers. The fourth dimension is the organization as a whole: its culture, ways of doing things and its values. The book attempts at describing all of these components from the point of view of managing different generations working together, and provides a list of tools – policies and processes – designed to ensure inclusion, co-operation and creativity, so that age diversity becomes a source of strength and versatility leading to efficient internal management and a successful business strategy. The author provides numerous examples of real-life situations from Polish companies based on his experience as manager and consultant; the whole book is written from a pragmatic business perspective, and aims at supporting line managers and HR professionals with practical instruments that can be applied to improve the way generations work together, thus increasing overall company effectiveness.