Mr Brust, there are currently more different generations working under one roof at Opel than ever before. What impact does this generational diversity have on day-to-day work?
Carsten Brust: Basically, it enriches the work – the more mixed-age the teams are, the better. As soon as different generations come together and different perspectives, experiences and knowledge flow into a project, the results turn out much better than when the teams are homogeneous. However, this only works smoothly if the different generations meet with mutual respect and appreciation.
Where does the difference between the generations come from?
Every generation has had similar formative experiences, common values and typical behaviour patterns have developed. An example: My father and my father-in-law are or were of a similar age and have completely different interests. One goes to an AC/DC concert, the other reads philosophical treatises. But they have similar values and behaviour patterns. Structure and punctuality, for example, are sacred to both. They have lunch at 12 o’clock. Whether in hierarchical thinking, feedback culture or work-life balance – each generation has developed different needs collectively.
The baby boomers were born roughly between 1946 and 1964.
Would you please start by briefly outlining or characterising the four generations?
The baby boomer generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, attach great importance to their work. It is said that the motivation and willingness to perform are particularly high. The origin of the term “workaholic” does not come from this generation by chance. The following Generation X, born from 1965 onwards, was also still influenced by sentences like “Apprenticeship years are not master years”. Even though the X-ers can be quite ambitious, they are the first to introduce the term work-life balance into working life.
The big change is then marked by Generation Y, those born between 1979 and 1999.
Yes, the millennials, as they are also called, have initiated a rethink by demanding flexible working hours and the possibility of home office. Mentoring is also important to them; they take every opportunity to learn. In return, they accept a work-life meltdown – in favour of flexibility, work is also willingly taken home. Interestingly, this is just changing with the arrival of Generation Z. These are those born after 2000 who are now entering the workforce. For them, the boundary between work and private life is more clearly defined again.
What are classic conflicts in mixed-age teams – and how can they be resolved?
The greater the age difference, the more different the imprints are. Experienced colleagues, i.e. the baby boomers, for example, sometimes react irritated when the youngest colleagues appear very demanding as soon as they enter professional working life. Here it is important to develop a basic understanding for each other. The baby boomer generation was – as the name suggests – large in numbers. Compared to today, about 5 to 6 million more people entered the labour market back then. Of course, you had to prove yourself and assert yourself there, with diligence and ambition. Today it is different. Companies are wooing the next generation. Generation Z is in demand – and they know it. Therefore, from their point of view, it is quite logical to make demands on the employer.
So being aware of such differences helps to resolve misunderstandings?
Yes. At Opel we already trained managers 15 years ago on the topic of “Understanding generational differences”. And the topic has become increasingly important. Especially in order to preserve know-how in the company, an exchange between the generations is indispensable. The baby boomer generation has built up a wealth of knowledge – and is now retiring. It is important that the experienced colleagues pass on their know-how so that knowledge is not lost. Interestingly, it was the Corona pandemic that helped bring the generations closer together.
Generation X comprises those born between 1965 and 1978.
Generation Y is also called Millennials. This includes those born between 1979 and 1999.
Generation Z includes everyone born between 2000 and 2012.
In what way?
Experienced colleagues have come to appreciate the benefits of more flexibility through mobile working and home office and have found that work still goes on. This was certainly a revelation for one or the other manager. I include ourselves, the vocational training, in that. Within a very short time, we have switched from face-to-face training to hybrid models and have thus trained 280 apprentices and, in some cases, accompanied them all the way to their degrees. We could not have imagined beforehand that this is partly possible from the home office.
So the Corona pandemic has not had a big impact on the apprenticeship situation in the company?
Oh, yes. The effects will keep us busy for a longer time. For example, we are just noticing – like all other employers – that young people want to make up for lost time: Instead of starting an apprenticeship or a dual study programme immediately after leaving school, they travel, take up work&travel offers or the like. Of course, this means that fewer applications were received this year than usual. In the 2023 training year, on the other hand, a particularly large number of young people will probably want to start their training. But we have already had experience with such fluctuations, for example, when two cohorts graduated at the same time with the changeover from 13 to 12 years of schooling.
No matter which generation – what can each individual do for a good togetherness?
The most important thing is an attitude of appreciation and fairness towards each other. No generation is better or worse than the other. In vocational training we coined the phrase: “My perception is only my reality.” When all staff meet and exchange with openness and curiosity, other realities open up. And that enriches the work and results in the best possible outcomes.
Mr. Brust, thank you very much for your exciting explanations!
Diversity & Inclusion
A company-wide D&I programme will be available soon.