In the post-pandemic workplace, managers and leaders will have to navigate new and difficult situations. In this series, global executives share insights from their experiences during the pandemic — and their plans for the reset to come.

For this sixth instalment, we asked: How are you meeting the challenges of an intergenerational workforce?

Tell us about your experiences

Please share your own reflections on this question with other readers in the comments section below. Our intention is that this series will be a reference source for anyone in a leadership role in 2021 and beyond.

Apollonia Poilâne

CEO of Poilâne, a Paris-based family bakery

As the head of Poilâne since I was 18, I have been in a unique position to observe and understand both older and younger generations’ perspectives.

Generations differ, of course, whether because of their cultural references or as a result of the times and challenges they grew up with and are facing now. But rather than focusing on the differences, I have been struck by the uniformity of feelings that people express, even though they may use different words and ways of speaking. Having found myself in a quasi-interpreter position on several occasions, I have found comfort in helping different generations understand what the other means and emphasising what they have in common when everything seems at odds.

This perspective and approach has become part of my bakery’s way of meeting the challenges of an intergenerational workforce: listening, interpreting, and finding common ground and language. 

At Poilâne, we have chosen apprenticeship schemes to approach the way we pass our savoir-faire from one generation to the next. In the bakehouse, that means that aspiring bakers will shadow more experienced bakers until they have mastered the latter’s actions. At that point, it is the master bakers who observe. This process usually takes nine months, allowing the young bakers to build their intuition and knowledge.

They then build up to become autonomous bakers, working on a batch from start to finish. Apprenticeship forces a dialogue, but not necessarily with words. The gesture or the action comes first, then words nurture and expand the knowledge transmission. And without realising it, our bakers learn another generation’s perspective, too. 

Simon Cohen

founder and chair of Henco Global, a Mexico-based logistics company

From the beginning, we have offered all our employees the experience of belonging to a “big family” and this can only be achieved by sharing success and challenges, developing human relationships, creating wellbeing, and caring for people in an honest way.

And like families, our company spans a number of generations. We have experience, youth and passion altogether in our people. We teach and learn from each other.

From the beginning, I knew that personal relationships and positive treatment of my colleagues had to be a fundamental part of Henco’s competitive advantage. Having happy employees means having satisfied customers and, consequently, positive results. 

We have our own “High Performance, Happy People” philosophy: we believe that wellbeing, fulfilment, and happiness stimulates productivity and greater performance.

If you can’t be happy at work, which is where you spend most of your waking hours, then what is the meaning of it? Or as I always say: “Life is too short to be happy only on weekends.”

High Performance Happy People is built on three pillars: Wellness (sleeping well, eating healthy, and exercising), Mindfulness (meditation, spiritual connection, gratitude), and Happiness (enjoying life, family, friends, giving, inspiring). With this, and working with respect and trust, you are taking the first step towards happiness and success. As a consequence of having these three pillars in balance, you will be a high-performance person, no matter how old you are. 

Mona Mourshed

founding CEO of Generation, a Washington DC-based global non-profit organisation

We launched Generation seven years ago to help unemployed youth navigate the tricky transition from education to employment. Having trained and placed about 45,000 people into jobs in 14 countries, we recently expanded to the other end of the labour supply pipeline: the midcareer unemployed seeking new careers. That’s raised a different set of challenges.

We ran a survey across seven countries of midcareer job seekers and employers and found that employers everywhere have an overwhelming preference for younger job candidates. Asked about age 45+ candidates seeking entry-level or intermediate roles, employers viewed just 18 per cent of them as having the right experience and only 15 per cent as being a good cultural fit with their team. 

And yet, those very same employers reported that when they did give age 45+ job seekers a shot, 90 per cent of that cohort were seen as having as much potential, or more, to stay with the company long term. 

Employers can give candidates a fairer shot by replacing traditional CV-centric interview processes with demonstration-based exercises. Governments can offer employment programmes more customised to the learning and financial needs of mid-career workers, including living expense stipends, job interview guarantees and counselling support as they prepare to “start over”.

Within our own organisation we include practice-based assessments in our recruiting processes for most roles so that our candidates can truly demonstrate what they understand and are able to do, irrespective of age.

Employers cannot meet their labour needs by only hiring fresh graduates. Greater generational diversity must be a key part of that formula. We do not need more evidence. What we need is the collective will to act. 

This is the last in a six-part series

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