I’ve been told that, as a member of Generation X, I’m supposed to translate between Millennials and Baby Boomers in the workplace. In other words, I often find myself in the middle, mediating, negotiating, and translating.
Like most conflicts, it’s mostly about both sides being unable to listen without becoming defensive and buying into stereotypes instead of creating teachable moments. As a Gen Xer, I find both Millennials and Baby Boomers slightly annoying yet quite charming in different ways. I know that Baby Boomers can be rigid and hierarchical and Millennials can come across as entitled and lax, but I also appreciate the wisdom and experience of Boomers and the networked competence and insistent and innovative energy of Millennials. And since nobody asked, I thought I would lay out some advice on how to play nice in the workplace.
You don’t know what you don’t know.
While its certainly possible for a newly minted college graduate to start a company or nonprofit, he or she would be wise to seek advice and input from people with more experience. And a professional nearing retirement may not actually have his or her finger on the pulse of all the latest industry trends so it might be smart to run that plan by those who are more junior. Multi-generational organizations identify blind spots and address them more effectively than those that are less age diverse.
There is a place for innovation and for experience.
Find a balance. Sometimes the way we have always done things is stale. Other times, it’s a proven method of success. Don’t try to innovate arithmetic. At the same time, there is always room for improvement, and sometimes old ways of doing things actually ARE stale.
The Internet is so cool, but remember you need to know how to use it.
Information – true and false – is available at our fingertips. Evaluate your source. I can’t tell you how many times I have received
briefings for meetings with the wrong Jim’s bio attached.
People and screens can both be important.
Social media, Skype, chat have made it easy to communicate all the time with friends and colleagues. But that doesn’t make focused time or face time a thing of the past. Face to face meetings still help solidify relationships. Picking up the phone to work out scheduling might be faster than 14 emails. Do you really need answers RIGHT NOW to all 127 separate questions? At the same time, a chat is friendly and great for some
folks. Going off email to write is a really effective way to focus. Learn how others manage time, email, and connections – try something new.
When someone calls you a baby, it’s not always an insult to your intelligence. Maybe someone is jealous of your energy, your style, your idealism. Maybe they are just jealous of your lack of wrinkles! You don’t need to get so defensive – it actually just makes you look more like a baby. However smart or knowledgable you are, there are times when experience matters. When you act like it doesn’t, it just confirms your inexperience.
You are not old. Don’t make a big deal about your age. Yes, you were young once, but that’s not going to be what makes you relatable to Millennials. And they definitely don’t want to hear that they are younger than your children. Find some intellectual ground or a shared interest you have in common. Be smart and wise, and leave young and hip to others. Pass the torch. The reality is that you may retire later, but you will retire, and there may come a time you won’t want to work so intensely. Invest in the Millennials so you can live golden in your golden years.The fact is that stereotypes exist. They might not be fair, but they are what they are. If you know the stereotypes about you, you can be proactive about counteracting the already, always listening they create. If you know that Millennials can be seen as entitled, try opening with
a little humility. If you know Baby Boomers can be seen as condescending, try really listening. Maybe y’all will actually communicate and I can get back to my day job!