Engaging Experience and Connecting Young Workers
Written By Rob Kirkbride, Write Office • September 12, 2022
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Some of you might have seen news about the death of Mike Dunlap. He was one of those guys in the industry who was a fount of knowledge. Mike knew a little bit of everything about the office furniture industry. You know the kind of person I’m talking about — someone whose knowledge is so deep and so personal that they are the obvious individual you turn to when you need answers.
For some reason, society today does not value experience, and that’s a shame. Instead of experience, our values have shifted toward diversity, equity and inclusion, which is right, necessary and good. But experience has taken a back seat to these other important values.
Let me be clear: I am not saying we should not strive toward an industry that does a better job of being inclusive. One look around any industry event proves that we do a lousy job of attracting a diverse, inclusive group of professionals. I’m simply saying experience has been cast aside as we work toward these other critically important goals. And for no apparent reason. One need not choose one attribute over another. We can have diversity and inclusion AND value experience in our hiring practices.
I would argue that implementing a successful DEI program demands experienced employees first. Experienced employees are needed so this young, diverse workforce coming in has excellent mentors and role models. Experienced employees have the knowledge and ability to guide, advise and train these new colleagues and to help them develop their value.
Experience doesn’t necessarily mean old either. I have friends in this industry, decades younger than I am, who are vastly more experienced in certain areas. When I need ideas about marketing, I turn to George Lucas Pfeiffer at BOS. When I need answers about furniture installation, I call Stephanie Gething at All-American Intelligent Solutions. And when I need advice on sales, I call my son, Liam, who is in his mid-20s (and happens to be a regional sales manager at Davis). All of these people are younger than me, but all possess deep expertise and knowledge in areas where I have gaps in my understanding.
At the other end of the spectrum, society seems to have forgotten how valuable the experience of our elders is, though it is often disregarded. In recent years, my friend Mike slowed down a bit. He was dealing with some health issues and wasn’t getting around as well as he used to. Yet he still had important things to contribute to the industry. Are there people in your organization who have been around a while that you are taking for granted? How might you use that experience? How can you reengage them?
I find that people with experience and expertise are happy to share it. One simply need ask. I also find that the people with the most experience — especially if they are toward the end of their career — are dismissed as “out of touch” or “past it.” Instead of casting them aside, engage this experience. Connect the younger, inexperienced workers with those that are experienced and watch what happens. Deep, meaningful connections can be made and those inexperienced workers can get up to speed quickly.
I found the following list in the book “Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation” by Dan Schawbel that I think is helpful when thinking about engaging experience and connecting that to young workers.
Here are a few things older workers can teach younger workers:
- The struggles and setbacks of building a career and the importance of having years of experience
- The soft skills that have helped them build the relationships that have made them successful
- The loyalty that makes others on your team want to invest in your learning and development
- The regrets they might have had in their career and how to not make the same mistakes
- How to manage corporate politics that naturally occur in any corporation, especially larger ones
- The skill to handle conflicts in the workplace and the wisdom to use those conflicts to actually solve problems and form stronger relationships in the aftermath
What younger workers can teach older workers:
- New technologies that will impact internal collaboration and their profession and industry and how to use them
- The importance of diversity and how it can benefit the team, since younger employees are the most diverse in history
- How change is inevitable, why the skills of today may not be as valuable in the future and how to learn new skills
- Why they shouldn’t give up on their dreams — research shows that younger workers are more optimistic and can use that to inspire older workers
- The collaborative mindset that will help older workers best interact with them, brainstorm, and come up with new ideas
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