The world looked on in awe as 15-year-old qualifier Coco Gauff defeated Venus Williams in the first big upset of Wimbledon 2019. In a post-match interview, an emotional and humble Gauff spoke of her admiration for her rival and idol.
There’s absolutely no doubt that this win was a huge testament to Gauff’s raw talent, but it also shows her ability to rise to the occasion and to keep her composure under intense pressure. Businesses, too, can learn a thing or two about how identifying and investing in people that show real potential – without ignoring the skills and experience of more experienced workers – can keep their staff as happy, motivated and as focussed as Coco.
Age is just a number
It’s fair to say that the vast majority of 15-year-olds aren’t sporting superstars, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be another Coco on the horizon. Achievements like her latest win are impressive and should definitely be applauded, and business leaders should encourage this ambition and determination in the workplace as well.
Once upon a time, younger, more junior members of staff would often have their hard work and impressive results overlooked, with the glory usually going to the head of the team or business. Nowadays, though, making sure staff are recognised for their drive and focus is not only vital for a positive work culture, but also essential for achieving business benefits such as increased retention, productivity and growth.
But it needs to go both ways. Just because younger employees are encouraged to reach for the stars, that doesn’t mean that older staff should feel side-lined because of their age; there is simply no excuse for that. As long as they have the ideas and enthusiasm to succeed, age really shouldn’t matter at all.
If this attitude is established company-wide, it will also be hugely advantageous for employee retention as well. After all, staff will not only see a future in the business, but will also view the company as an inclusive workplace that doesn’t judge people on superficial issues like age.
Experience vs Hunger
However, that doesn’t mean that employees of different ages all work in exactly the same way. When Williams and Gauff walked onto Court One, everyone expected experience to win out over youthful hunger for success. But sheer determination – and perhaps a few new tactics that wouldn’t have been expected by an established player – can account for a lot.
Williams’ historical success is undeniable of course, and being 24 years older and already a seven-time Grand Slam champion, it’s easy to see why she was the favourite. Regardless of the result, though, both players likely left the court with a better understanding of the game, their strengths and weaknesses.
In the same way, businesses need to encourage both younger and older staff to take inspiration from one another. The hunger and drive from younger staff can be a fantastic motivator, but the experience and industry know-how from older employees can really help to focus this enthusiasm and get the best results. Ultimately, it’s all about empowering every member of staff to do the best job they can – and realising that effective teamwork is vital to achieving this goal.
The power of positivity
Let’s not also underestimate the value of keeping employees positive as well. Whether it’s giving staff rewards for a job well done, or having long-standing benefits in place to establish loyalty, businesses will get the most from their staff – young or old – just by making them feel valued and encouraging positive collaboration.
If left unchecked, age differences can easily create an ‘us or them’ culture that destroys the benefits that come from cross-generational collaboration. To overcome this, businesses need to encourage staff of all ages communicate and work together more effectively. Without these practices in place, stress can very quickly run rampant and breed an unhealthy workplace culture.
This is where inter-generational support can be hugely valuable and provide real benefits. Older staff can rely on their experience to reassure stressed juniors, while younger employees can demonstrate innovative new approaches that may not have been considered by senior staff.
Whatever strategy a company puts in place, making sure employees are able to deal with any day-to-day challenges and remain resilient will stand them in good stead. Needless to say, if employees feel like they are prepared for anything, they’ll be happier, more settled and more productive as a result.
From the tennis court to the office, there’s so many lessons that HR can take away from the incredible feat of Coco Gauff. Whether it’s existing employees or new hires, it’s fantastic to have experience on your side, but companies shouldn’t overlook raw talent and ability either.
In short, young or old, age should not be a factor when assessing talent. Everyone has to start somewhere when it comes to gaining experience – and taking a risk on someone that shows real potential can often pay huge dividends.
“Burcin has been CEO of Sodexo Engage, specialists in employee and consumer engagement, since 2018 and joined from a previous role as CEO of Sodexo Benefits and Rewards in Turkey. She’s a strong believe in diversity and gender equality in the workplace and is a key player in Sodexo Women’s Forum for Talent (SWIFT) as well as being an executive sponsor of Sotogether, a Sodexo global initiative focused on gender equality.”