The European Youth explains the age gap in European business in the 21st century

Bienkowska Youth

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Member of the EC in charge of Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs,to Poland. Elzbieta Bienkowska during the closing ceremony of European Forum for New Ideas EFNI.© Unknown , 2018 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service.

This article was exclusively written for The Sting by David Gomes, the President of JADE – European Confederation of Junior Enterprises (JADE). The opinions discussed in this article belong to the writer.

The age gap has become a hot topic nowadays, especially when in workplaces many people start to feel the difference among different generations.

More than a hot topic, the age gap is becoming something more meaningful because of the constant changes in society. Changes not only in the behaviors, ideas or ways of working, but also in generations itself. Right now, we have 4 different generations working side-by-side in the workplace: Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1964), the Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980), the Millennials (born between 1981 and 2001) and, finally, the Generation X (without consensus on when they born). This is caused by the fact that the generations are changing faster every decade, having different traits, ideas, tastes and even mindsets.

Having 4 different generations working in the same place it can be seen as a threat, but also an opportunity for companies.

It is seen as a threat for those who believe that the younger generations are only used to have everything they want, so they should respect and obey the elderly. Nowadays, it does not work. At least, not with the Millennials or the Generation Z, which are generations that believe in their value and their ideas. This shock of ideas can turn some workplaces into battlefields, because on one side we have the experienced people, who have worked in the company for years and, on the other side, we have the younger ones, whom bring new ideas, new ways of increasing productivity, and can add a lot of value to the enterprises. Although, once the war is started, the workplace is undermined.

Still, this shock of generations is (and should be seen as) an opportunity to add a huge value to companies. As said before, on one side we have people who are extremely experienced in what they are doing, they have a lot of knowledge not because they have degrees, but because they have been working in the specific area for decades. On the other side, we have young generations that have degrees and different experiences, as well as different ways of approaching problems and challenges. These young minds bring innovation and new efficiency levels to companies, since they are restless in their way of working. It is part of their generation’s DNA.

If we think about the opportunity of creating the right dynamic between these different types of generations, companies can achieve a bigger impact. If an organization manages to create a culture where there is understanding and cooperation among everyone, the results will be amazing. Mixing experience with theoretical knowledge can bring better results for companies.

There are a lot of activities that companies can (and should) apply in order to avoid this shock of generational mindsets. The first approach can be starting a mentoring programme in the company, where people can find a mentor or coach to help them achieve their best results. A success case of this mentoring programmes is IBM, where they have the “CoachMe” programme, nowadays with 55,000 participants across 80 countries, with around 2,000 coaching sessions a month. Also, this programme has a specificity: the older people in the company can choose a younger one to help them developing some skills.

The Human Resources structures need to be prepared for this kind of changes in their organizational structures. It is essential, more than facing this reality, to act against it and take out the most out of it. Also, as a second approach to this reality, companies should always listen to their employees. It is not enough to just guess what they need, it is important to understand their thoughts and beliefs, in order to adapt all the structure and activities to their own needs – in the end of the day, companies are made of people.

As an example of the output from the generational gap as an added-value to society, we as JADE have an event called Generations Club – our Public Affairs event organized in Brussels every year in November/December.

It is composed by 2 elements: The “Senior” generation, represented from figures of both the public and private sector, and the “Junior” generation, represented from student NGOs and members of our Network.

It started in 2007 and has the aim of bringing together the “Senior” and the “Junior” generation, discussing up-to-date European issues and building bridges to foster a more collaborative entrepreneurial society.

This year’s event will be about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. For the past editions, we have discussed various sets of skills needed in the business world. In this year’s edition, we want to discuss how we can apply these skills in order to take concrete actions towards one of the most important matters of today: the SDGs.

The invitation-only event will gather around 30 people and will see the guests taking part in parallel discussions in different focus groups to share opinions and ideas on the topic and collect concrete conclusions to be disseminated to relevant stakeholders and policymakers.

About the author

David Gomes, 21 years old, is the President of JADE – European Confederation of Junior Enterprises. He is in charge of keeping the activities aligned with the long-term strategy of the Confederation, coordinating all the European Network’s events, managing the human resources of the organization, and maintaining the international relations of JADE.

David is a graduated in business management from ISCTE Business School (Lisbon, Portugal). He was Management and Strategy Director of his Junior Enterprise, ISCTE Junior Consulting, responsible for managing a 12-people department, and as member of the Executive Board, he was part of the decision-making structure of the Junior Enterprise.

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