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Project Xroads: Bridging the Generation Gap across Businesses

In August 2017 as part of my Clore Social fellowship, I embarked on a four-month sprint with a group of professionals working outside of their day jobs at Marks & Spencer and Unilever to prototype Project Xroads, an intergenerational support network and skills-sharing programme.

Building leaders

The programme was supported by Collectively, who bring together businesses, innovators, activists, facilitators and change makers to explore issues of inequality, and create action plans to address them. As a social sector leader, I wanted to work in the business sector to extend my leadership experience. There was a huge amount of energy and talent in the team - together we grew as leaders as we worked out how change could be achieved.

Multi-generational working

What interested us was the pace of change in the workplace and how it affects people of different ages. People are living and working longer than ever before and today modern offices can house up to four generations.

In the workplace we identified generational differences in digital skills, confidence and legacy. We found a huge opportunity to bring new entry and long career service employees together to exchange life and business skills.

Developing the prototype

We talked to people across the businesses as well as age, youth and volunteering agencies to gain insight on these issues. We spoke to over 200 people through an online survey, face to face interviews and focus groups with long service and new entry employees, learning that 64% of people would be interested in a cross-generation programme.

Our research findings showed that new entry employees would like a safe space to share every day work issues outside of line management discussions. Their workplace challenges include finding information, navigating office politics, and they would like more decision making and presentation skills to help them grow in confidence. They are concerned about the increasing focus on academia to get a job: ‘All that seems to matter is how you do at school - it would be good for people to define success in a different way.’

Long service employees have a desire to share knowledge and benefit others as they felt they could offer support for younger colleagues with self-management. They recognise the pressure of those entering the workforce today to be financially independent. Their workplace challenges include access to technology and worries around financial security and legacy. They would be excited to be part of something new. ‘I'm increasingly concerned with my 'legacy' and whether my work has made a difference’, explained a long service employee.

To pilot the programme, we teamed up employees who had struggled to find work and had already been on a programme to help them enter the workplace, and those who had been in their careers for over 20 years. We found that the digital savvy newer workforce were keen to exchange their skills with experience and a deeper understanding of the business from longer serving colleagues.

Next steps

We want to develop a six-month skills sharing programme with sessions on connection, digital, wellbeing, empowerment, sustainability and community that could be run in every workplace. Our aim is to build solidarity across generations and create platforms for new thinking. Xroads could increase wellbeing at key points across our working lives - it has the potential to initiate a global step change in intergenerational relations. If you are interested in helping develop the programme do get in touch with me via Twitter.

Jane will be talking about perceptions of ageing at an RSA Ideas event on 30 January.

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