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Intentionality and humility drive connections in the intergenerational workplace

November 21, 2022, 7:00 PM UTC
Lydia Logan, global vice president of education and workforce development at IBM, speaks at Fortune's MPW Next Gen summit in San Diego, Calif. on Nov. 16, 2022.
Stuart Isett for Fortune

Today, it’s no surprise to see a 75-year-old veteran of an industry working alongside a 22-year-old college graduate. As five generations now find themselves working together in various professional environments, it begs the question: With disparate differences, how do we create more collaborative and inclusive cultures?

That was the topic of conversation at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen summit during a panel on navigating the intergenerational workplace. Hosted by AARP, the panel tackled modern challenges, including remote work, mentorship, diversity, caregiving, mental health and wellness, employee activism, and innovative management styles. Speakers included Lydia Logan, global vice president of education and workplace development at IBM; Karen Mercer, senior vice president and treasurer of AARP; Sarahjane Sacchetti, chief executive officer of Cleo; and Tia Sherringham, general counsel at DoorDash.

“The macro unifier is there’s an employee and an employer expectation gap, and it’s intensifying at the speed of our macro political and economic climate,” Sacchetti said. “We’re really at a point where the employer and employee relationship is very fragile.”

The panelists spoke about the ways in which companies can inspire employees by making them feel connected to the mission. That can be done remotely or in-person, but it’s really about seeing the employee for their individual contribution. To do that, there must be transparency in the conversation, intentionality in the plan, and a humility among leadership to adapt to the rapidly changing world.

Sacchetti explained that for her team, it was understanding that the mission of Cleo—providing support to working families and caregivers—was often the personal mission of employees. But that also means they have split priorities because they are caregivers themselves. She found that flexible hours and the expectation that it’s “bring a kid to work 365 days a year” actually upped productivity for her team.

IBM takes a more traditional approach: Logan explained that mentorship has been a driver for success, and that has happened best when leadership shows up in person and younger employees have face-time with more experienced leaders. With that, each employee has a growth plan, and managers foster appropriate relationships to help employees get where they want to be.

DoorDash has relied on building transparency in the relationship between managers and employees so that employees can be honest about career goals and trajectory but also with outside priorities beyond Zoom.

Sherringham and Sachetti answered the tough question around quiet quitting and hustle culture: the former explaining that it’s on leadership to listen to the team and adapt management styles, and the latter saying that expecting employees to give their all to the company is no longer realistic.

Mercer noted that whatever a company does, it must be done with purpose. She has built more women into leadership roles because she made a point to mentor women. She launched resource groups where there is a goal in mind: women can meet to speak candidly about successes and challenges.

“It’s a conversation that comes out of having relationships with people,” Mercer said. “This person is interested in this, so how can I connect them to the next thing? Those conversations can happen a lot, but it takes intentionality.”

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