As you enter the workforce, it’s likely that at some point you’ll work with or for someone who falls into a different age cohort than yourself.
Working with an older or younger employee or employer can be tricky, as your age difference can cause friction around interests, work habits, career plans and more.
While it’s only normal to find any source of workplace tension a little anxiety-inducing, treat the experience as an opportunity to learn from your colleague and develop your own communication and collaboration skills along the way.
Understand the terminology
The major age cohorts currently in the workforce are Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Here’s a quick breakdown of the relative ages and dispositions of each group.
It’s useful to be aware of how these cohorts are “traditionally” described, so that you can recognize and avoid stereotyping and understand how both you and others may make assumptions about different age groups. Every person is unique and will bring their own attributes and personality into the workplace.
Baby Boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964. As it relates to the workplace, Boomers are often considered competitive, portrayed as placing a high value on education and feeling that workers should pay their dues.
Generation X includes those born between 1965 and 1977. This generation is portrayed as possessing an independent attitude, skeptical disposition and strong emphasis on work-life balance.
Generation Y are those individuals born anytime from 1978 to 1999. Gen Y is considered optimistic and technologically adept, and its members value constant feedback.
If you’re unsure how to relate to a colleague, the best way to start is by striking up a conversation. Be genuinely curious about other people’s interests and make an effort with everyone in your office, no matter their age.
Although it can be easy to be intimidated by someone older than you, remember that an age gap doesn’t have to mean a gap in conversation — you’ve both grown up in separate times and experienced different things, so you should have a LOT to talk about.
When you’re curious you’re also opening yourself up to learning new things. If you both learn from and work off of each other’s strengths then you’ll be able to develop a strong working partnership.
Individuals of all ages and levels of experience can have trouble communicating. The average person is pretty used to communicating without thinking too much about it, which can cause problems when there are different values or levels of understanding at play.
You don’t need to turn everything into a calculated statement, but if you find yourself having trouble communicating with someone, take a second to ask yourself if you’re communicating the important and factual elements of what you need to say, or simply reacting to your perception of their tone or attitude.
Millennials can also get a bad reputation for being “know-it-alls” in the workplace.
Bust this myth by listening to and learning from your superiors at work. Ask questions, listen carefully, take notes and show your colleagues that you value their experienced opinions, but don’t be afraid to voice an idea if you feel strongly about it!