Working with Generational Differences in the Workplace

Working with Generational Differences in the Workplace

Age-based communication struggles are nothing new.

Maybe you don’t understand how your kind, attractive, intelligent daughter is 36 and single. Maybe she doesn’t understand how you possibly could have been happy getting married your junior year of college and starting a family as soon as you graduated.

You may think text messages are rude or impersonal, while your kids probably think there’s nothing more obnoxious than having to listen to a voicemail.

You might be sitting at the beautifully crafted dining room table you saved up for when you moved into your first stylish house, drinking a cup of Folgers and wondering why anyone would buy expensive coffee or cheap furniture. While your children or grandchildren are shopping at IKEA while sipping $6 almond milk lattes.

Talkin’ ‘bout my generation…

Generational characteristics are a big part of our identity. Things can change a lot in the time it takes for our children and grandchildren to grow up—not just the values we live by, but the way we speak, the way we dress, the food we eat, the music that we listen to, and most of all, the technology that we use.

Think about it…young adults entering the workforce have never known life without the Internet. Children in elementary school may have never heard a dial tone and don’t fully understand why we use the phrase “hang up the phone.”

Instead of flipping through volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica when we’re curious about something, we Google it. Instead of asking the gas station attendant for directions, we ask Siri. Mail order catalogs have taken a backseat to Amazon Prime, and there’s an app for everything from parking meters to pizza delivery.

Kids these days…

If your career began in the analog age, you might long for a simpler time, when your inbox was literally a box on your desk and meetings took place face to face instead of face to screen. You might miss the days when your access to work ended when you left the office.

But know that to your 28-year-old colleague, this IS a simpler time. That 11pm timestamp might look unprofessional to you, but your young coworker is enjoying the ability to catch up on email from the comfort of his pajamas…and don’t worry, he’s not expecting a response until business hours.

Millennials vs. Baby Boomers

The 2016 census revealed that Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation in the U.S. Along with the fact that the average age of retirement is rising, this means a lot of generational differences at work.

On one hand, you have a diverse pool of skills and experiences and lot of opportunities to learn from each other. On the other hand, unfortunately, you can end up with divergent communication styles, conflicting strategies, and wildly different worldviews.

You wish your new social media manager would stop putting smiley faces in her emails and learn to use an iron. She probably wishes you’d accept her Google Calendar invites instead of just writing the meetings down in your planner and that you didn’t print out your important files instead of just backing them up.

You think “work from home” days are kind of a joke. She may be at her most productive when she doesn’t feel trapped in a cubicle.

As “the office” becomes more of an idea rather than a physical space, file rooms are replaced by flash drives, and the white collar/blue collar distinction is blurred by the “no collar” workforce, there’s frustration and confusion on both sides of the fence.

Joining Forces

You have some choices to make when it comes to navigating these tricky generational differences. You can either fight with each other, or you can learn from each other.

So the next chance you get, grab lunch with one of your young coworkers. Maybe that social media manager with all the wrinkled shirts. Then, instead of rolling your eyes when she orders $13 avocado toast, try talking to her. Approach your differences as mutual opportunities rather than irreconcilable obstacles.

Maybe you can help her figure out a reasonable monthly budget, and maybe she can show you which apps are best for keeping track of it.

Maybe you’ll mention wanting to increase your life insurance, and she’ll show you how to shop for it online.

Maybe next time, you’ll order that avocado toast too, just for the heck of it.

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Comments on Working with Generational Differences in the Workplace

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