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November 18, 2014

Bridging the Gap

Ruth Hill

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We’ve all heard of “bring your child to work” days, but have you ever thought about bringing your parents to work?

Yesterday, I discovered an initiative called LinkedIn Bring in Your Parents day, which was encouraging businesses all over the world to invite their employees to do just that. But when I shared the post on my Twitter feed, the response it received wasn’t exactly what I’d call enthusiastic. I can’t think why?!

LinkedIn actually has a very good rationale for its scheme. According to its recent survey, more than a third of parents said that they had skills and knowledge that could benefit their grown-up child’s career, but they kept quiet, either because they didn’t know enough about what their kids did for a living or because they thought their offspring wouldn’t want to listen.

I find this topic quite intriguing – not only because it made me wonder how I’d feel about bringing my own parents to work, but also because, although my daughter is still only young, several of my friends now have children who are just entering the world of work, and I wondered how they would feel about it.

It would take a lot of confidence to take Mom and Dad into a situation where you’re trying to establish your worth as an employee. We spend such a long time psychologically individuating ourselves from our parents that we’re often reluctant to let them into domains where we’ve established ourselves as adults in our own right. But let’s think for a moment about the wider implications of expanding generational diversity at work.

Familial relations aside, our ageing society means that people are living and working for longer. According to a recent article in the Economist, well-educated, highly-skilled Baby Boomers are now putting off retirement, while younger, less-skilled people are finding themselves out of work.

The Economist claims that, counter to popular opinion, trends in technology may actually be helping the “educated elderly” to continue to be productive members of the workforce; largely because the skills that complement computers, such as management expertise and creativity, do not decline with age.

Now, I’ve written in this blog before about the role that technology and social media play in my job. Pretty much all of my time is spent at a laptop, editing articles and BSTs, composing blogs, tweeting, posting status updates on LinkedIn, checking my email, and fiddling with code in Dreamweaver.

None of these skills are beyond my parents' capabilities but, as people who spent their entire careers working closely with others, I don’t imagine they’d envy the solitary hours I spend tapping away at my computer wearing headphones, rarely talking to anyone and even communicating with my neighboring colleagues through instant messaging!

The way we work today, it’s hardly surprising that the news is filled with reports about Millenials who are afraid to talk on the phone. Add to this what Newsweek’s Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman have dubbed the “Creativity Crisis,” in which recent studies have shown that creativity scores among young Americans are falling, and it’s clear to see that the older generations still have plenty to offer.

In fact, the whole of society benefits when we have a more integrated mix of generations at work. If we allow increasing longevity to translate into longer retirement, economic growth will stagnate and government budgets will struggle to provide for growing numbers. But if older members of society remain in employment, the decline in economic growth will be more controlled as they continue to earn money and contribute through their taxes.

Economics aside, recent demographic trends show that people of different age groups are becoming increasingly segregated in society, leading to intergenerational feelings of isolation, misapprehension and even mistrust. But in communities where there is a high level of interaction between generations, people of all ages report feeling a greater sense of understanding and friendship, as well as feeling personally valued for their effort and skills, enjoying better physical and mental health, improved learning and elevated employment levels.

So, I say bring your parents to work. In fact, why stop there? Put the kettle on, Granny and Grandpa are coming too.

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