On International Youth Day 2019, we recognise the great diversity of ages in our workforce and the value of sharing knowledge across generations
International Youth Day was named by the United Nations as “an annual celebration of the role of young women and men as essential partners in change...” With the world changing faster than ever, there is a spotlight on today’s youth and how they will shape our future.
As an innovative packaging and paper group with a global network, we encourage young people around the world to join Mondi, develop their careers and contribute their talents. Yet the strength of our business is also due to the age diversity among our employees – diversity we value and learn from.
Michael Hakes, Mondi Group HR Director, observed in a recent interview with HRO Today that, “Mondi has a long history in the paper and packaging industry, which means the age of our workforce is extremely diverse. We think having a variety of ages is a good thing and want to keep it that way.”
There certainly is a wealth of existing skills, knowledge and experience among our employees, some of whom have spent their entire careers in our plants and mills. At the same time, we are a dynamic business in a fast-paced world: constantly innovating to produce better products more sustainably, using state-of-the-art technology, and communicating and collaborating in new ways.
Mutual respect and knowledge sharing
Can a mix of ages work well together? It’s not hard to find studies and articles highlighting the generational differences between baby boomers, generation X, millennials and gen Z. However, we prefer to resist such stereotypes: each person is an individual, and should be regarded as such. And while some generational differences do of course exist, we believe they are transcended by what we have in common.
The key to working together across generations are open minds, mutual respect and good communication. We stand to gain a lot. “Businesses must create environments that are flexible, integrating and capitalising on the expertise of every age group. There are great opportunities for the older generation to share their in-depth knowledge and experience and for the younger generation to bring new skills and techniques to the table,” said Michael Hakes in his recent interview.
To help bridge the generations, we offer several types of mentoring programmes. Our traditional mentoring programme connects young employees with experienced managers who can support and guide them through their professional development and career transitions. This year we are starting a pilot programme in reverse mentoring, in which knowledge sharing flows both ways. Senior leaders are already volunteering to join the pilot and see what they can learn from a younger generation.
Retired former employees can also serve as mentors and pass on their valuable knowledge. Our Mondi Štětí paper mill, one of the largest employers in its region of the Czech Republic, recently celebrated its 70th anniversary. The mill is starting a programme to match new hires with retirees who will mentor them through the onboarding process – sure to be an enriching experience for all involved.
We respect that people of different ages have diverse motivation influenced by family obligations, personal goals or other factors. The increasing use of flexible working is designed to meet those needs of our employees while enabling them to remain engaged in their careers.
No matter what age, we empower people to realise their full potential through training and development. On average, each of our 26,000 employees participates in more than 30 hours of training every year. Michael Hakes adds: “We believe in lifelong learning and invest heavily in our people, offering training through our own Mondi Academy and internal job moves to help people progress and achieve their goals. At the same time, we work closely with schools and universities to attract young talent to invest in the future of the company.”
Age is just a number
Despite the stereotypes, different generations have much in common. We find there are fundamental things, such as good leadership and an enjoyable work environment, that we all value regardless of being a baby boomer, generation Z or somewhere in between.
For example, doing ‘meaningful work’ is often mentioned as a priority for the young, but it’s something people of all ages find important and fulfilling. We asked a variety of people across Mondi – from baby boomers to gen Z – for their take on what makes work meaningful. There was plenty of common ground:
“It is teamwork in an environment of mutual respect.”
“It is work that I feel a connection to and that drives me to give my best effort. Meaningful work provides value for the company and self-satisfaction in return...it’s a mutual relationship.”
“Personally, meaningful work is changing the culture of a workplace and working with the team to achieve what others did not think was feasible.”
“It is work that you do with pleasure, when you care about the results of your efforts. It’s very important to be valued and to realise the input that you make.”
“It is work that adds value to a common goal. It is also done in real collaboration.”
“It’s a challenging job that you find satisfying and that is meaningful for the company.”
Such universal values are what close the gaps between generations. With the great range of ages represented in our workforce, our culture emphasises mutual respect, communication and caring. We will continue to bridge the generations to create an inclusive environment in which all voices are heard, in line with our HR vision: Grow. Create. Inspire. Together.
“In the beginning of my career with Mondi, I worked with colleagues older than me. They were more experienced, very mature, and I learned a lot of things with them. I will never forget them!
Currently a lot of younger generation colleagues work with us. It’s a different atmosphere than before, because habits and mentalities have changed. It’s my turn to teach them what others have taught me. I try my best to accompany them and support them, and we learn every day from one another. My work is a real source of personal fulfilment.”
Saida ZINE, 60, Purchasing, Mondi Industrial Bags Morocco. With Mondi since 2001.
“Working with a colleague older than yourself is the first step in seeking that person's work experience. In my case, my supervisor is 45 years old and has more than 15 years of experience. With my three years of experience, I sometimes find myself facing new challenges. My supervisor has made every effort to show me how to handle these difficulties. Over time, I have gained maturity in my decision making and the daily management of my tasks.
Working with older people also allows us to contribute our young dynamism, especially in terms of helping people master new working tools. In addition, a friendly work relationship often quickly develops and you learn a lot in a peaceful environment.”
Haphsa Ouattara, 28, Logistics, Mondi Industrial Bags Côte d’Ivoire. With Mondi since 2016.
21 May is the United Nations World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development and it is on this day that we celebrate the diversity of our people, the positive impact it has on our business and renew our commitment for greater cultural understanding and acceptance.
Language is critical to inclusion. How we speak to (and about) one another influences how we treat each other.