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Bridging the Generation Gap: University Partnership Offers Lesson for the Workplace

Bridging the Generation Gap: University Partnership Offers Lesson for the Workplace

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Learn more about management degrees at American Public University.

 By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

CBS This Morning airs a regular segment called “A More Perfect Union.” This segment focuses on community stories and concentrates on those things that unite us, not divide us.

On December 28, I saw an inspiring example of how we can bridge the generation gap. The feature gave me hope that we are not as divided as some would have us believe.

For example, Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, partners with a local retirement home that gives a student the opportunity to live there, rather than in a dorm or off campus residence. The program is called “Artist in Residence.”

The chosen student is given a free apartment with meals and a parking space for one semester. Gabi Cutter, a vocal performance major, won the opportunity to reside at the Deerfield Community Center and was featured on the CBS segment.

Why Would One Give Up College Life to Live among Senior Residents?

The idea is to give young students the opportunity to make a successful transition to college life with the support of their “family away from home.”

Gabi says she has a “bunch of grandparents,” who check out her dates and provide approval. When her friends come over to her apartment, they have the opportunity to socialize with the residents and hear their words of wisdom as her friends also adjust to the challenges of college life.

In addition, Gabi has the chance to perform a couple of recitals a month for the residents. Those performances build her confidence in her craft.

The residents are glad to see the young people and look forward to the interaction. For them, it’s an opportunity to understand younger generations.

Also, they are excited to see that young people are interested in them. The relationships and conversations they have with the students are different than the ones they have with their own grandchildren.

One resident shared how she believed many seniors fear getting old due to stereotypes labeling them as dull and useless. An experience like the Drake University partnership helps them overcome their fear of aging and shows them that there are younger people who still have respect for the elderly.

How Can We Transition These Types of Experiences to a Multi-Generation Workplace?

The Drake University experience shows that the elderly still have value. If older citizens want or need to stay gainfully employed, companies should encourage their participation and seek out their counsel.

Older employees can fill in the generation gap and educate younger generations about an organization’s history and culture. They can also provide a foundation for their younger colleagues’ corporate success. What better way to orient the next generation than to encourage collaboration and engagement among the various workers in a multi-generation workplace?

There are several ways companies and placement personnel can leverage the mature workforce’s talents:

  • Get together with peers in your industry to find out how they approach this problem.
  • Build a business case for the value of mature workers for your organization.
  • Assess how the aging workforce affects your organization.
  • Develop a talent strategy regarding how mature workers will fit into your organization (such as recruitment goals and succession planning milestones).

Many organizations need to recognize the value of mature workers and stop trying to “lead them out to pasture.” Older workers will let you know when they are ready to leave.

Moreover, companies can significantly increase organizational value for their employees by creating an internal culture that respects older workers. They can also introduce activities that encourage collaboration and engagement among different generations.

Learn more about management degrees at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.

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