How to navigate the workplace generation gap

By Vicky Oliver

When twenty-something millennials work with people who are the ages of their parents and grandparents, generational clashes can happen. The newest generation of workers are more facile with technology than their older peers.
Older workers, on the other hand, often possess the in-depth industry knowledge and years of company experience that younger employees lack.
Is there a benefit to learning how the other half works? Yes. And doing so fosters peaceful coexistence and camaraderie.
Here are some common situations that may arise, and some advice for how millennials can maneuver through them.

Situation #1: The Rambler
The greying vice president is fond of making the rounds and rambling on (and on) about the company and events that happened way back in the pre-Twitter age. Meanwhile, you’re trying to get your work done. Should you interrupt him or politely excuse yourself?
Solution: Hear him out. Old-timers can be fountains of valuable knowledge. They also make great allies and mentors, which can benefit your new career. One smart tactic is to highlight one of the topics the VP mentioned so that he knows you heard him, and then let him politely know that you have to get back to work. For example, “I’d love to hear more about the classic ads we used to run. Another day, when I’m not so strapped for time, could you show me some? Maybe we can adapt them for social media.”

Situation #2: Tedious tasks
Your boss habitually gives you boring assignments that are way below your pay grade. But you’re new, and you don’t want to seem impatient or ungrateful. Will she think you’re an upstart if you complain?
Solution: Don’t gripe. Do the work efficiently and without a fuss, but let her know in an indirect way that you’re ready for more challenging assignments. Once you’ve finished in an hour what she likely thought might take you all day, knock on her door and say something like, “Hi, do you have a minute? I’ve finished the job, and wondered if you have anything a little more challenging that you’ve been dreading or putting off.”

Situation #3: The snail pace
One of your coworkers, a well-regarded senior at the company, gives your team instructions that are plodding and inefficient. You see a much faster way to do the task. Should you make the suggestion, or will it seem presumptuous?
Solution: Don’t interrupt this key employee. You need him on your side. Go ahead and do it his way. But when you’re done and have analyzed the entire process, meet with him and ask if you may share an idea. Once he sees what a good worker you are, he’ll be more open to hearing about the app you know about that could help the team do it better and in half the time.

Situation #4: The feedback trap
Your office culture encourages frequent 360-degree feedback sessions, where everyone critiques everyone else’s performance. Why? Do they really expect you, a new employee, to jeopardize your relationships by being too honest about a department head who is vague and has poor communication skills?
Solution: There’s a way to give feedback that makes the other person look and feel good. For example, you might say, “As a newcomer here, I’m still learning the work style of our department and watching how things are done. One thing I’ve noticed is that you expect us to catch on quickly – which you should. But at least for now, I could probably use more detail and a little more specificity to do my job optimally.”

Situation #5: One is the loneliest number
There seems to be an old girls’ club in your office and these women “of a certain age” exclude you from their meetings and decisions – even though you’re supposed to be on their team. Should you confront them, or will that just make it worse?
Solution: Perhaps your youth is a bit threatening to these Gen X women. But asking directly if you can be let into the club may backfire. Instead, tackle the group members one by one. Ask the least powerful member of the group out for coffee one morning. If that goes well, ask another group member to join you for lunch one day. You may find that the next time these women get together, you’re included.

Vicky Oliver is a Manhattan-based job interview and image consultant and the author of five bestselling books on personal branding, etiquette, and career development, including “Bad Bosses,” “Crazy Coworkers, and Other Office Idiots,” “301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions” and “301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions.” Visit for more information.

3 thoughts on “How to navigate the workplace generation gap”

  1. Hi! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any trouble with hackers?

    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing several weeks of hard work due to no data backup.
    Do you have any methods to prevent hackers?

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