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August 4, 2021

The Power of Intergenerational Connections

As a result of multiple societal changes, older and younger people in the western world are more distant from each other than ever. Back in the 19th century, family members of all ages usually lived and worked under one roof. Since life expectancy was much shorter, grandchildren saw their grandparents slowing down, and they were usually taught to fill their shoes on the farm or in the home.

Today, young people are caught up with school, their peer groups, and social media. Sometimes, they live thousands of miles away, with their parents, or they strike out on their own quite early. At the same time, older people continue working and eventually find refuge in assisted living communities or social groups and activities specifically for people of advanced age.

While this may all seem normal in the 21st century, it means that the young and the old don’t get as many opportunities to learn from each other. Research shows that both seniors and young people benefit significantly from intergenerational interactions.

Whether you’re an older person or a leader who is in charge of people of varying ages, you could be missing out if you don’t foster opportunities for young and old to interact. In this blog post, we highlight the benefits of relationships between individuals of different ages. Then, we look at what both organizations and older people can do to ensure they reap these benefits.

What Research Shows About Intergenerational Linkages

For more than 30 years, Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant led the Harvard Study of Adult Development. In his book “Aging Well,” he pointed out that while relationships with peers and partners are important, so too are connections that span generations. Specifically, he found that older adults who mastered generativity – caring for and investing in the next generation- were three times more likely to be happy than those who didn’t.

Meanwhile, a study published in The Gerontologist found that older people’s brains and cognitive function improved after six months of tutoring students. The researchers determined that short-term participation in such community-based programs could positively affect memory and the executive functions that support independence in later life.

There is also support for the idea that formal voluntary work among older people leads to:

  • Increased physical activity
  • Better health and functioning
  • Greater life satisfaction
  • Decreased depression
  • Lower mortality

What Can Be Done to Foster Deeper Intergenerational Linkages

People are starting to recognize the disadvantages of having a wide gap between young people and seniors. That’s why a number of organizations are coming up with innovative ways to bridge the gap. Examples include LiveWell San Diego, Seniors4Seniors, Judson Manor and Nesterley. These provide opportunities for people of varying ages to live with each other and/or learn from each other.

The multigenerational workforce is also getting increased attention since people are living and working longer. In many cases, there aren’t enough young people entering the workforce to replace them. Research shows that while there can be intergenerational conflict, multigenerational workforces can actually be beneficial. These teams can be more productive and less vulnerable to high turnover rates, despite commonly held myths.

If all your workers feel valued and included, job satisfaction and productivity will be higher. To lead a successful multigenerational team, you’ll need to challenge generational stereotypes, treat each worker as an individual and create opportunities for workers of all ages to work together and mentor each other.

How Mature Workers Can Help Themselves

If you’re over the age of 50, you may want to take a second look at the people with whom you work, socialize, and volunteer. Are they all in the same age group as you are, or do you have healthy relationships with younger people? Given all the advantages of collaborating with people of various ages, you may be wondering about how you can get started.

Marc Freedman, the author of “How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations” makes some recommendations. He suggested that individuals prepare for generativity and purpose by:

  • Accepting their mortality
  • Planning for the years beyond mid-life
  • Finding a way to live in their purpose while earning an income
  • Actively choosing to spend time with younger people
  • Using technology to connect with younger generations
  • Listening to what young people have to say

Go Even Further with the Assistance of WiseForce Advisors

If you own a business or manage an organization, you’ll want to take advantage of everything that a multigenerational workforce has to offer. To assess your organization’s readiness for age diversity and learn how to cater to 50-plus employees, contact our team at info@wiseforceadvisors.com to schedule a consultation. We offer highly customized solutions.