Happy New Year – a question of age difference!

Happy New Year to all my readers; thanks for your support in 2011.

How many of us make a New Year’s Resolution? Many I suspect. What number keep them – not so many, I dare say. I certainly know that I am one who makes and breaks them each year. So, what have I decided to do this year? Most of them are personal and not for sharing here, but one that will impact on this blog’s readership, is my aim to target thirty new posts this year; that’s one every two and a half weeks – not excessive for you, I hope. I only wish I could be more like my friend Chris, who posts a new feature each Monday morning and every one worth reading.

From feedback I have received, I know readers like to see case studies; I have a catalogue of them, so if I have not been stimulated to write something new I will post one of them.

Here is my first offering for 2012.

Social and cultural differences between people in the workplace can have a massive impact on how successfully an organisation can function; unfortunately recognising the importance of these differences is often overlooked by managers and business owners. Whether the organisation is a small company or part of a larger company or public body, it is essential to keep the members of staff happy; within our target driven society this is rapidly becoming an ever more complex challenge.

What is more, organisations can pay a very high price for failing to respond adequately to differences between people. Costs, some actual, others in damage to team morale and consequent loss of productivity, can be phenomenal.

This case study describes a cultural difference based on age. How a father and son dispute can highlight the purpose of a company’s existence.

Terry has successfully run his small insurance brokerage for nearly forty years and is looking forward to his retirement. His son Adam, who is in his thirties, has recently joined the firm with a view to taking over from his father. Within a short space of time working together a problem arose between directly out of their difference in age and experience.

Terry liked how the company worked; a small friendly team, most having been on the staff for over ten years. They worked hard to achieve their targets and got on well together. However, Adam could see huge inefficiencies across the company and that profits could be increased with the modernisation of hardware, systems and personnel. He was stunned to find some of the client information still being maintained on a rotary index card system. Terry was clear that his company had been built on valuing people above profits – his son questioned the validity of this ideal, for him the purpose of being in business is to maximise profits.

Whilst bringing Adam onto the board seemed like a way to secure the company’s future within the family, it was soon recognised that in fact their inter-generational differences could put the company at risk, by threatening its value base.

Through Equality Edge mediation, Terry and Adam were able to arrive at a mutually agreeable conclusion to their impasse. By working with them individually and together, Terry and Adam soon began to see value is the other’s position and that their challenge was to incorporate aspects of both into their future plans. Through a transformative coaching process Terry and Adam were able to answer these questions for themselves; they both grew through the experience and as a result a process of change has been initiated – slower than perhaps Adam would have wanted but achieved in a way that was acceptable to Terry.

How many times do people of different ages and life stages work alongside each other without recognising how that difference impacts them. Terry and Adam were able to overcome their difference, clearly assisted by having the family connection on their side. I wonder, would the same happen in your workplace? Would your employer understand or would they fall into the traps of prejudice, age discrimination or workplace bullying; common conclusions to similar issues.

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in age equality, beyond diversity, discrimination, Equality & Diversity, management, Prejudice, workplace bullying and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Happy New Year – a question of age difference!

  1. I’m sure we’d all agree that part of the challenge here was the difference perspectives which arise from age gaps. I’d think too however that there would have been a difference in educational opportunity / professional culture and, because of that, also differences in expectations and world views?
    I’m sure these differences were addressed in Terry and Adam’s discussions, but we must always bear them in mind – and of course formal education is one thing; life experience is another!

    • equalityedge says:

      I agree completely. Difference in age will automatically mean difference in life experience, culture, background, education and likely to be many other aspects too. Nevertheless, these differences are all too often overlooked in the workplace.

      I could have gone into more detail about Terry and Adam, but I try to keep blogs to about 600 words. The full case study would make very interesting reading.

      Thanks for taking the time to reply.

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