Ann-Kristin Boström, Ph.D. in international education, is an affiliate researcher at Encell. Her area of research is international and comparative pedagogy with a focus on lifelong learning, intergenerational learning and social capital. In the book Human Resource Management: A Nordic Perspective, she writes about generational differences in the workplace.

Where and when we are born provides us with experiences that we carry with us and that we share, in some way, with those in our same age range. International research shows how different generations view each other as colleagues. The research on learning and interaction between generations took off in the 1970s.

“The effects of the industrialisation of the western world first appeared in the United States in the 1970s. Over a long period, people had been moving to places where there was work, often from rural areas to the cities and from one state to another. This also meant that people were moving away from their relatives, and many children never met their grandparents, while the elderly also missed interacting with their grandchildren.

Then people realised that projects could be arranged for the old and young to meet and gain knowledge and experience from one another. To find out if this had any effect on the relationship between the generations, research and evaluation was needed. The University of Pittsburgh was one of the first to work with intergenerational research,” says Ann-Kristin Boström.

Fewer meetings IRL

In today’s society, there aren’t the same obvious points of contact between generations as there were in the past. Ann-Kristin Boström describes it as chimneystack generations, where the generations are increasingly living next to each other. An employer needs to recognise that there may be different views on working methods, different meeting cultures and different approaches to division of responsibility among generations.

“Those who have retired or are now retiring have not grown up with the internet since they were young. Therefore, they have a different view of how work should be accomplished. They want joint meetings where all concerned parties meet and discuss how the work should be done, and they are used to a strict division of responsibilities.

The younger ‘internet generation’ finds meetings unnecessary because everything can be handled online. They would like to work in a group and share responsibility, so they do not have to take sole responsibility.

To facilitate knowledge transfer in the workplace, this is something the employer must actively work with,” advises Ann-Kristin Boström.

“Listen to your employees and hear how they view their situation and what they need. Be aware and do not worry if you notice that the needs are different. Younger generations generally need more of your time than do older generations. Then you can pre-empt generational divisions because you understand and can explain the differences to them, so that they have the chance to understand one another. The best thing is if they also work together to fully reach a mutual understanding.”

She calls for a more flexible working life, where age doesn’t play such a large role, something that other researchers endorse. In her current research, Ann-Kristin Boström is interested in well-being in relation to social capital and how intergenerational learning can affect it.