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How to Get Along With Younger Co-Workers

If you think your colleagues in their 20s and 30s are talking about you behind your back, you're right

By Gwen Moran | May 11, 2012
Indifferent co-workers collaborating
Younger and older workers often see things differently.
Jupiterimages | Photos.com | Thinkstock

Steve Fisher, 50, is steamed about some of the Millennial Generation co-workers at the marketing firm in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., where he's a senior account executive. “Most of the young people here filter in
 around 
8:45 or later," he says. "Then comes the coffee and the chatter. Lots of texting, headphones, and other things that have nothing to do with higher productivity. Although we have a dress code, many wear flip-flops to work,
 even in the winter."

Guess what, Steve? Younger workers are not so crazy about you and your fellow Boomers either. A poll by the Society of Human Resource Managers found that 72 percent of managers reported intergenerational conflict in their workplaces.

Don’t get Billy Bauer, 20, started. The marketing manager of his family’s Royce Leather Gifts in Secaucus, N.J., is frustrated by what he sees as a failure of Boomer managers – including his parents – to adopt new products and new ways of promoting their companies, like using social media platforms.

“The biggest issue is the antiquated style of thinking of upper, older management,” he says. “They view the emerging tech-savvy world with reluctance and disgust.”  You’d better pay attention to the gripes of Bauer and others of Generation Y. Otherwise, if you’re considered inflexible and behind-the-times at work, your career could be in jeopardy, says Hilary Pearl, founder of Pearl Associates, an organizational consultant in Greenwich, Conn.   So you'll want to know the four things Millennials say about Boomers and, more important, follow the advice to give peace a chance at the workplace:
 
'You’re Technologically Inept'

Millennials were raised on Facebook, laptops and smartphones. They have little patience for Boomers who don’t keep up with technology and using it to communicate, Pearl says. When the office suddenly gets new software to get work done more efficiently, some Boomers immediately recoil and grouse about it. In addition, in-person conversations are much more important to Boomers, who typically don’t see the point of IM’ing or video conferencing when they can cross the hall or talk over the cubicle and have the same discussion face-to-face.

How to keep them from hating you:

The key to avoiding conflict is showing your tech skills whenever possible so you’ll avoid the Luddite tag. When Cincinnati organizational consultant Linda Gravett, co-author of Bridging the Generation Gap, was recently getting ready to deliver a speech and the technician didn’t show up to help set up her laptop, she kept her cool. Gravett gamely did it herself. Her reasoning? “If you have the opportunity to dispel the myths, take the opportunity.”

If you're nervous about some new tech demands at work and think you need some remedial training, see if your employer offers tech classes. Otherwise, try your local community college or seek out online resources like Knowledgewebb.net, which offers free digital tools courses online once you become a member for $129 a year.

'You’re Always Looking Over My Shoulder'

A striking 44 percent of younger workers complain that older managers micromanage, according to the Society of Human Resource Managers survey. They crave independence and want to do things their way. What Gen Y calls micromanaging, however, is typically a Boomer’s inclination to share an experience or to shorten a Millennial’s learning curve, Gravett says.

How to keep them from hating you:

Back off. Keep yourself from constantly intervening, but instead offer constructive criticism and instruction when needed. Also, be sure to make your expectations and needs exceedingly clear. Then give younger colleagues an opportunity to carry out their tasks, Gravett says.

'All You Do Is Work'

Pearl often hears Millennials complaining that Boomers spend too much time working and need to get a life. Gen Y doesn’t seem to understand that the older generation prides itself on its work ethic (including working long hours) and views that as the characteristic that sets them apart, according to a Pew Research Center report. The Boomers’ nose-to-the-grindstone habits are also because some in their late 40s, 50s and early 60s don’t want to retire or aren’t financially ready to relinquish their jobs, says Susan Bender Phelps, founder of Odyssey Mentoring and Leadership in Beaverton, Ore. Meanwhile, some Gen Y members wish the Boomers would scoot and open up some higher-paid positions. “When Boomers entered the market, you’d get a job and move up the ladder," Phelps says. "Today, there is no ladder to climb.”

How to keep them from hating you:

Gen Y staffers are looking for ways to work smarter, not harder – and they’re onto something, Phelps says. “Millennials want to work hard, but they don’t want to work hard 24/7, or even 14/7,” she says.  So, try to offer shortcuts you've picked up over the years that will help younger workers get the job done faster. You might want to take a lesson from the younger set, too. Stop being shackled to the desk, Phelps says. Instead, carve out more personal time, and take advantage of work perks like flex time and telecommuting. Don’t be shy about adopting technology that lets you stay connected while working from a distance.

'Your Feedback Stinks — and You’re Mean'

Millennials really want to know how they're doing at work. In fact, 60 percent of Millennials want feedback from their bosses once a day, according to a November 2011 report from Robert Half International and Yahoo! HotJobs. Remember, this is a generation whose parents heaped on praise constantly, so they're accustomed to being told how wonderful they are. But Boomers tend to adopt a “no news is good news” policy, only giving feedback when something needs improvement, rather than heaping on the kudos, Gravett says.

How to keep them from hating you:

Offering too little feedback or too much criticism can cause Gen Y workers to up and leave, Phelps warns. Set expectations with Millennial workers about when and how you’ll provide feedback, including performance reviews, meetings, emails or other methods. And anytime you notice a job well done, lavish positive feedback. “When you say something like ‘This is the best job you’ve ever done. Let’s look at ways to reproduce this kind of result,’ they feel good and you reinforce those good results to make them happen again and again,” Phelps says.  Then if your younger colleagues are happy, you’ll increase the odds that your boss will be happy, too.

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