With four generations working side-by-side, and a world of difference between them, we sat down with several intergenerational teams to talk about the advantages and challenges of working across the ages. From TikTok and YOLO (it means "you only live once") to avocado toast and Encyclopedia Britannica, we covered a lot of ground. These interviews have been condensed for length and clarity.
Cempa Community Care
* Baby boomer: Robert Cornelius, 59, a prevention education manager, with Cempa for eight years
* Gen X: LaDarius Price, 41, community outreach, with Cempa for four years
* Millennial: Cory Howard, 33, chief operations officer, with Cempa for 10 years
* Gen Z: Caylor Johnson, 19, an administrative assistant, with Cempa for three months
What words come to mind when you think of your generation?
Robert: Cranky, set in our ways, that's the perception people have of us. We're actually the generation of love. I don't know what happened. We just got burned out.
LaDarius: I would say transition — going from things being on the cusp of really going into technology and it being utilized for a lot of things we see today.
Cory: Obsessed with Harry Potter and avocado toast. We want work/life balance and that perfect job. Also the last generation to know what the world looked like before computers were everywhere, and we experienced 9/11 at a very young age. It was part of our childhood growing up.
Caylor: I wasn't born yet on 9/11. I have a friend born on the day it happened. For my generation, I definitely think technology, and possibly more progressive or progression.
Do you think the generalizations about your generation are true?
Robert: It's kind of true. We've seen the world change and some of it's not so much for the good. We remember how it was and how free it was, you could just walk onto a plane, and we miss that.
Cory: People feel millennials are lazy or entitled, but there are more social barriers that weren't there for the earlier generations. The cost of living, the cost of college, the idea that you have to go to college was pushed on us, and of course now you have this giant service sector in need of people who know how to do electrical and plumbing, which is now suffering because our generation was told to get a four-year degree.
Caylor: I can see how people see it the way they do, but the way I was raised I don't fit into 'they just care about technology and TikTok and what they post on Instagram.' I'd rather work — I want a job where I'm really going to grow and love it.
What are the upsides of working on an intergenerational team?
Robert: For the older person, it makes you feel a little more young and more inspired. Their work ethos is so different and their passions are so much more intense that it keeps me thinking outside the box, which I love. The passion they have is so infectious and they get so passionate over such small things that I'm a little bit envious. I'm tired; I need a nap.
LaDarius: I've learned a lot from Robert, from his kind of carefree, mellow attitude. It wasn't just the fact that he knew stuff because he had been here, it was also just his personality. He would help me slow down: 'Take your time, it's fine.' And it can go both ways. I can learn something from Caylor, I can learn something from Robert. Cory is my direct supervisor and seven years younger, and I can learn a lot from him.
Caylor: I really like to watch people and see how they work. You can definitely tell the generations are different. I like working with older people because I like to learn all that nitty-gritty stuff you wouldn't hear around people the same age as you.
How are generational work styles different?
Robert: I'm the generation where 15 minutes early is still a little bit late, and the younger generation will get there right on time. I've come around. Ten years ago, I was like, 'what is wrong with these kids?' But you mellow out. You have to understand how they grew up and where they're coming from. I appreciate their work/life balance. I struggle with that. I get told to get off my email. I just can't turn it off, and I appreciate the fact that the younger generation can go home and turn it off.
LaDarius: Cory has put in my performance plan in two evaluations: You need to take time off work. But growing up with a father who spent 45 years at the same place of employment and a mother who spent 36 years at the same place of employment, I'm just going to work. I'm going to try to outwork the person next to me. I also think the younger generation has more of an entrepreneurial spirit. They're like, I'm going to work for myself; I'm not going to work for 20-30 years on somebody else's dream when I could have been doing that for myself.
Cory: The older generation is very much we'll be here on time, never take time off, they work their life around work, but for the younger ones, it's how are you going to work around my life? Which can be frustrating in a leadership position because I need you to be here.
Caylor: My parents are like, 'your generation, they don't have it together. I don't know what the world is going to be like in 10 years.' But I feel like sometimes we're really new and we haven't necessarily gotten that chance to see how we're going to be in the work community, or when we're CEOs, what the dynamic is going to be like.
How does your generation feel about technology?
Robert: Instead of the internet, I had the Encyclopedia Britannica. My first computer was a Commodore 64.
LaDarius: Paper — that's what I grew up on. I was supposed to take a document to Brainerd the other day, and she said 'just scan it and send it.' No. I printed it out and took it over.
Cory: There's definitely a gap in technology and knowing what to do. Sometimes I have to say, 'before I open up this IT ticket, have you shut off your computer and restarted it?' Millennials and Gen Z grew up with Google and just know how to troubleshoot. They'll look for solutions online first instead of going to somebody first, and older generations will call someone on the phone first before going to the internet.
Caylor: I fixed my phone before. It was not working, so I looked up a YouTube video, figured it out, fixed it. Last semester, I had no books in my classes. It was all online. My mom wants to post something on Instagram, she's like, 'can you post this for me?' I'm like, 'Mom, it's not hard, it's really not that hard.'
* Baby boomer: Donnie Hutcherson, 66, founder and managing partner, with 42 years at the firm
* Gen X: Travis Horton, 45, a partner who has been with HHM 22 years
* Millennial: Chelsea O'Shields, 28, with HHM six years
* Gen Z: Zach Kanady, 23, with HHM for 18 months
What words come to mind when you think of the perception of your generation?
Donnie: We're structured. We lived through interest rates of 21%, we heard the stories of the Depression from our grandparents, so we're much more traditional, much more routine. We stay. We don't move around. The worst thing is skepticism of new ideas. It's inherent to getting older, and future generations will have the same problem.
Travis: I think this generation is not afraid of work as much as some of the other ones. They work hard, are pretty loyal and maybe started the work/life balance discussion, but certainly did not do it as well as the generations following. When we were younger, we were the generation that was going to screw everything up. I remember sitting in class and a teacher telling us, 'y'all's generation is going to screw the country up,' and now we say it about the iPhone generation. That concept is not new.
Chelsea: People say we bought too much avocado toast and Starbucks, and that's why we can't buy a house. Our generation probably has the greatest sense of entitlement and the least amount of loyalty. That's probably describing our generation not in a great light, but in the workforce those are probably our characteristics. That's what people think about us, but I'm here to prove all of them wrong.
Zach: I think a lot of people think of us as either lazy or really hard-working; there's not a lot in between. A lot of people in my generation skip school and go travel, become YouTubers, try to make it the easiest way possible. My generation sort of lives the YOLO lifestyle — they don't want to die and leave money leftover. They want to spend it while they have it.
What are the best things about working in an intergenerational team?
Donnie: We're learning from their generations. We're learning to morph and transition based on your work/life habits, your work/life balance. We would not be the firm today that we are if we tried to stick to my values or Travis's values. We are constantly changing the way we work and the way we play and live. It keeps us young. My favorite event of the whole year is when we have college students in for our open house. We'll have 75 college students in, the excitement in the air, just the liveliness that goes on during that event just creates an air of youth.
Travis: That is probably part of the secret formula. We've made sure not to have the mindset that just because we did it that way last year doesn't mean you do it that way this year. We're unlike most businesses, where the younger voices are not often heard. Most firms do a lot of things behind closed doors. That's part of our success rate at getting the talent, at keeping the better talent.
Chelsea: Working intergenerationally has been grounding, but also very teaching. I've just learned so much about it's OK to be a dreamer and to challenge, but keep in mind that we've started the business, we've done it, we've been there, and here's why those ideas may not work, or here's why those ideas will work.
Zach: A lot of my friends don't work the hours I work, some of them don't have jobs, but I like working with these generations because it shows me that it does pay off. One day, I could be half of Travis Horton.
What are some of the challenges of intergenerational teams?
Donnie: You've got a technology gap. A boomer can relate to a Gen X, and we can work pretty closely together. A boomer probably cannot work as closely with a Gen Z because of the technology. Zach knows how to do things I can't do. I have to work through a Gen X or a millennial because of that technology gap.
Travis: As the older ones, we get stuck in the routines, and they're challenging the routines. There are times you want the routines challenged, there are other times you don't. That's probably the sticking point.
Chelsea: We kind of learn by trial-and-error. They're very analytical and need to prove things out, prove it's going to work before you even start it. There's kind of this impatience waiting to see results, but that's probably a good thing.
Zach: The best is we're pretty flexible and we like flexibility, but the worst is probably that we shun traditional ideas, whether they're good or bad.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
* Baby boomer: Sandy Owen, 65, has been with BlueCross for 29 years, since 1992, with a four-year pause to help with her grandchild.
* Gen X: Lisa Long, 43, has been with BlueCross for 13 years.
* Millennial: Adrian Hemphill, 29, has been with BlueCross for three years.
* Gen Z: Jordan Harmon, 23, has been with BlueCross for three years.
What words come to mind when you think of your generation?
Sandy: Old! My daughter works here. She's almost 41.
Lisa: We're turning into an anchor. I kind of consider us the bridge of connection between the old ways and the new ways.
Adrian: We kind of get a bad rap. People say we're technology-based and always on our phones, all we care about is the computer. Maybe we learn faster. People ask us to fix the copy machine. And we do.
Jordan: Most people my age, the first thing that any other generation thinks of is they have some form of technology shoved in their faces around the clock — a computer, phone, video games, some form of technology.
What are some of the milestones that mark your generation?
Sandy: I was in school in first grade when President Kennedy was killed. I remember people running in the hallways, and I didn't know why.
Lisa: 9/11. I remember where I was and what I was doing.
Adrian: I was in fourth grade for 9/11. I remember Sandy Hook.
Jordan: The pandemic. I'll never forget sitting there when they said we were going to get sent home. We thought, well, we'll be back in a couple months. I hate to be negative about it, but it really bothers me that we're getting father and farther from the face-to-face experiences.
What are some of the differences in the ways intergenerational teams work?
Sandy: They definitely know how to help you with computer problems. I call my daughter and she googles it. I think I learn something new every day from them. I just don't remember it.
Lisa: The younger ones will ask questions before the older ones will. That's a good thing about them. The younger ones want to instant message. I'm more of a communicator. I'll pick up the phone and call you.
Adrian: I will not pick up the phone unless I absolutely have to.
Jordan: We've had technology in our hands from the day we were born. It's second nature to us; we've grown up with it. A grandparent, if they have any kind of tech trouble, we're who they call, and most of the time, we usually can fix it.