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Generational conflicts in the workplace: by no means (stereo) typical!

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What Hans doesn't learn, Hans learns more and more!

When it comes to the challenges that companies face when it comes to collaboration between generations, it is usually the younger, digital generation that is “denounced”, which confidently demands flexible working hours or locations and makes the concept of work-life balance a religion seems to have. Today, for a change, we want to ask ourselves whether the 50-plus generation could also be part of the problem, especially since some of the aging baby boomers either consider themselves omniscient or are reluctant to get involved in new things, such as new technologies or tools. This often leads to the opinions and skills of younger people being rejected from the outset, which in turn means that the distance between the generations grows: a vicious circle.

How can companies succeed in maintaining an open mind and seeing the diversity that generational change brings with it as an opportunity? How can both sides – young and old – maintain respectful interactions and learn from each other? We spoke to Evelyn Summhammer about this and much more. The business psychologist, psychotherapist and best-selling author accompanies and inspires managers and companies with her lectures, workshops and (online) coaching and has specialized, among other things, in change management, generations 50+ and conflict resolution of all kinds.

in-manas in conversation with Evelyn Summhammer

in-manas: Evelyn, an old saying goes: “What Hans doesn’t learn, Hans never learns.” To what extent are we influenced by such statements, for example in our judgments, self-doubt or our motivation to learn new things as we get older?

Many companies rely on the experience of age being sufficient and automatically providing them with the tools to reinvent themselves and stay in tune with the times.
Evelyn Summhammer

Evelyn : It's time to free yourself from negative stereotypes and unconscious age biases like these. And at all levels. It's about critically questioning and dissolving your own beliefs. Because they guide our thinking and behavior and we unconsciously look for confirmation of these beliefs in every situation.

in-manas: So you find yourself in “homemade” negative loops?

Evelyn : Right. This phase of life is more about reinventing yourself: not disconnecting yourself, but staying connected to all the internal and external changes that take place over time. This applies to differences in approaches, ways of thinking and living as well as physical changes. And that means opening up.

in-manas: What does this mean for managers and HR managers? Do they have to behave differently towards this generation in order to “pick them up”?

Evelyn: Yes, definitely. But unfortunately many companies leave these people alone. They rely on the experience of age to be sufficient and automatically provide them with the tools to reinvent themselves and keep up with the times. But that is an illusion. Like any age, any onboarding or any professional expertise, dealing with aging or with older employees requires ongoing skills expansion.

in-manas: As a business psychologist and psychotherapist, you also support companies in expanding their skills. Now, as much can be revealed, we both already belong to the 50+ generation. How do you feel when you meet young people in companies as “older” people?

It's about every person having an experience within them that can enrich me: a skill that helps me or a thought that can achieve great things in me.

Evelyn: Interestingly, I’m seen as “the young one” there. They accept my open nature and so I manage to build a bridge to all generations, including the older ones, who can see in me that you can remain curious and open-minded even as you get older. A large part of the 50+ generation simply needs a hand that guides them lovingly but firmly. And I offer this supporting hand authentically. Because I have experienced it myself and know, both from the perspective of psychology and from the perspective of my own resistance, what is allowed and what is not allowed to be in and with companies in a process of vital and compatible aging.

in-manas: Let's move on to the younger generations. To what extent are there prejudices against older people that could make collaboration more difficult?

Evelyn: Young people also bring with them stereotypes and beliefs about older generations. They often compare them with their parents, and if they were not or are not a role model for compatible, open aging, they treat their older colleagues the same way: that is, they quickly exclude each other, do not listen carefully and, above all, do not want each other be patronized, especially since the separation from the parental home was not that long ago. That's why it makes sense for young people to critically question which conscious and unconscious ways of thinking and triggers arise when working with older employees and which barriers are created as a result. And above all, it's about the question of how these barriers can be broken down to enable new experiences. And that starts with mutual respect.

in-manas: How can both sides treat each other with respect and learn from each other?

When the WE is in flux, potential and connection open up. We give more and are willing to commit deeper, a prerequisite for success!

Evelyn: Respectful interaction begins with conscious and appreciative recognition of one's own ways of thinking and acting: recognizing what I create, what I possibly prevent, where I create conflicts and where I block more than my counterpart. It's about taking an honest look at your own mindset - your own influences and their consequences. And it's about alternative behaviors that we need in order to be open to each other in WE. Because as soon as I recognize the error of believing that the truth only lies within me, I can consciously take countermeasures and initiate change. So it's about recognizing that the person I'm talking to also has valuable wisdom for me if I open up. It's about every person having an experience within them that can enrich me: a skill that helps me or a thought that can achieve great things in me.

Only when I face myself, open my boundaries, recognize my external dynamics as a reflection of myself can I face the WE. Because a constructive WE needs a conscious ME.

in-manas: What opportunities arise from this?

Evelyn: The great opportunity of all these measures relating to the conscious design of aging in companies and the conscious handling of different generations lies in the special culture that this creates: those involved in shaping things will also act more consciously in other areas, allow more, much more Think outside the box and leave your comfort zone. This in turn means that human energy and creativity can develop and not get stuck in self-made conflicts and fights.

When the WE is in flux, potential and connection open up. We give more and are willing to commit deeper, a prerequisite for success! We need people who enjoy going to work, enriching others and being enriched themselves.

in-manas: Thank you for the enriching conversation, Evelyn!



  • If you would like to find out more about Evelyn Summhammer : go to her website here .

  • And for everyone who is interested in more topics related to personnel and organizational development: In the knowledge hub for HR and OE in our INNO-VERSE there is enough discussion and innovation space for current topics and challenges like these.


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