Working with people of different ages
Teri C Brooks Training Facilitators

Working with people of different ages

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Working with Millennials, Boomers, Gen Xers can be challenging. But, not impossible.  Let’s talk about working with people of different ages and building strong teams.
#GenX #millennials #Babyboomer

During the span of my career, I’ve been part of so many meetings I couldn’t begin to tell you how many.
But, I’m noticing something a little different lately. It started just a few weeks ago.

Always the early bird, I was waiting for a community project meeting to begin. Then, I perceived something fascinating about the other professionals entering the room. Each of them – I mean every single one of them – was young enough to be my offspring. I could be their mama!  It was a serious “a-ha” moment.  It prompted me to think: “How do I work effectively with these millennials”.

I didn’t feel any particular way about being the oldest in the room; I didn’t feel good about it nor did I feel bad. It was just one of those “hmmmm” moments that happens at one time or another.  If you read Forbes, Harvard Business Review or any other business site, you know generation-focused articles are all over the place. I guess a lot of people are wondering the same thing I am: how do I make these relationships work?

Multi-generational workplaces aren’t new by any stretch of the imagination; every generation has had to navigate the older and the younger working together.  But there is something distinct about this current dynamic. I think it’s the influx  of technology in the last twenty years. The millennials grew up with tech other generations have to learn. Maybe it’s because people are working longer before retiring. It means the preceding two generations are sticking around way longer than they did in the past. Another factor could be our society’s inclination to “worship” all things youthful.  The “worship” could produce a story of insecurity among the more seasoned workers.  Tension and conflict always follow insecurity.

Each of the afore mentioned can help but impact workplace cultures and how teams interact on a day-to-day basis, right?

Our generations are different…very different …from one another.
More than chronological years separate millennials (folks who became adults in the 2000s) from Gen Xers (born from 1965 to 1976) like me. Our professional ideologies, ways of work and world views tend to be vastly different from one another. We certainly define “appropriate” behavior  differently.

An example is workplace uniforms. I’m old enough to remember when women in the banking profession wore ONLY skirts (yes, skirts), dark suits and enormous shoulder pads (think Golden Girls fashion). The message I received (as a young professional)was women had to look like versions of she-men in order to be taken seriously. Thankfully, those days are gone. However, the residue remains. Many a career was launched with those same professional mores and they can still shape the philosophies of those who grew up with them, right? I can’t tell you how long it took for me to grow accustomed to jeans in the workplace!

Well, today’s young professionals are nothing like their stuff predecessors. Not only do young women embrace their femininity, but some flaunt their sexuality in ways once taboo for the us old folks. Managers are between a rock and a hard place. Conversations of cleavage, tight clothes and short skirts have been the struggle of many a human resources professional. “What to do?” they wonder. How do they set standards of dress without seeming (or being) sexist? Do you think it’s sexist for company’s to require workers to dress without cleavage showing or short skirts?

What about dressing casual? More and more managers yearn for people to arrive at work dressed for work.  A manager for a local school district asked me: “how do we handle folks coming to in extremely casual?” “Do we actually have to write “no pajama bottoms” in the employee handbook these days?” We chuckled, but this is a real conundrum for those supervising some millennials.

Let’s talk work styles.
Clothes are a bit trivial and can be overlooked in the big picture.  Performance is different; it is the chief concern.  Can people get the job done efficiently and effectively? Lying deep inside the answer is the concept of work styles. How do we do our work?

New-School Style
Should work still be done “at work”? Depends who you ask. I know millennials who shun the old-school “chained to the desk” philosophy for more, flexible, nomadic work environments. Be it a coffee shop, a library or even their bed with a laptop in their lap, some swear they get more done away from the office than they do in it. They find being away breeds productivity.

I think they are right – at least the ones I’ve worked with. You never see them physically in the office, but they are “getting it in” as the youngsters say.  They reach goals and get things done!

And there it is. The proof is always in the pudding.

Getting the work done. Millennials seem to do just that. They use fewer resources and tend to work circles around some of us oldsters! I think it’s because they know how to leverage innovation and technology in order to be effective with fewer resources. They may also use technology for interpersonal connections and for many of them it seems to work.

Old-School Style

On the other hand, lots of Boomers (born from 1946 and 1964) tend to work most comfortably at the physical office.  Walking through those doors, smelling the brewing coffee energizes them in some ways.

They also likely believe more is best – more hours at that office, more paper, more meetings, more office supplies, more effort. I will probably anger some, but the Boomers may also be a bit more controlling than millennials. They could possibly still believe good old-fashioned, face-to-face meetings are the best accountability tools.  They may think something isn’t official unless it’s written on a post-it and stuck to their computer monitor.  Their draws may be full of pens, boxes of paperclips and even WhiteOut Ok, scratch the last one. Are you old enough to remember WhiteOut?


working with people of different ages
Working with people of different ages – takes work.


In the end, both generations likely get the job done. They will just approach it and reach it in different ways.

We’ve talked about some workplace characteristics of baby boomers and millennials. Now, let’s “X” things up a bit.

Gen Xers (born from 1965 to 1976) on average tend to be more malleable than the generation preceding them.  I’m an “Xer” so I’ll use my voice. We Xers value the Boomers and their “take no prisoners” work ethic. It’s not foreign to us because they likely trained us.  Still,  we’re close enough in age to the millennials to relate to them as well. Technology doesn’t intimidate us Xers at all; we embrace it. In fact, it had it’s roots with our generation.

Hey, we all want the same thing, right?

All three of us – Millennials, Boomers and Gen Xers ultimately desire to be successful in the workplace. We all want to contribute in meaningful ways. We want to be valued for our contributions. We want to be successful. Indeed, we all want the same things; we just take different routes to get there.

Older workers yearn to be respected for the dues they have paid and the knowledge they have acquired over the years. Part of their definition of respect may be eyeballs on them during interactions so they don’t have to compete with devices.

The younger workers might long for management to trust them to produce good results without micromanagement or constantly questioning. Nothing bug a millennial more than being micromanaged. Sadly, these needs are tricky to communicate, so folks may never discuss them.

That’s were the problem arise.

Perceptions almost always breed misunderstanding. Communication breeds empathy, compassion and acceptance. Until you communicate with someone directly, you have no idea how they feel.

Millennials could perceive Boomers as being rigid and antiquated and doing things all “wrong” while the Boomers may view millennials as flaky, short-cutters trying to circumvent tried and true systems. For the most part, both viewpoints are wrong when attributed the masses. You must talk to one another to see how they view the world. Until then, there will always be an “us” and “them” divide.

As a team-building training consultant, I get frequent requests for trainings to bridge that “great divide” between the generations. That’s a tall order for training. Training is not a cure all. It’s a springboard.  It can launch a team in a new direction, but it is not a band-aid for mis-guided assumptions. When a manager or professional ponders “how do I work with millennials”, training may be the first thought, but isn’t always the most logical first step.

The most logical step is to provide many ways for the generations to connect and talk to one another. It’s all about communication.  Talking is the first step toward understanding.

Communication is not just “talking”. It’s listening and hearing. Click To Tweet

How do I work with millennials …Boomers …any age group?
Communication (facilitates understanding), flexibility (facilitates relationships) and open-mindedness (facilitates acceptance). That’s how you work with people.

Effective communication can stop silly misunderstandings and can [possibly] breed empathy. For example, if I understand what you believe or think, maybe I can better understand your responses and reactions.  Again, it starts with communication. Training can open that door to sharing but, it’s not a ‘one and done’ solution by any stretch of the imagination.

Let me also say communication is not just “talking”. It’s listening and hearing. It’s trying to determine how your words reach my humanity. That requires effort. You burn emotional calories as you work to understand someone else’s experience and point of view. It’s work.

The problem is never about people seeing the world differently than we do. No, the ultimate problem is us being ignorant to how they see and experience it.

As we get older, it’s easy to become unyielding and short-sided, isn’t it? Old people in my life used to call this being “stuck in one’s own ways”. I don’t want to be stuck. I want to expand. Being around different, and even opposing views helps us not be “stuck”. It equips us to be flexible.

Flexibility and open-mindedness keeps us evergreen, growing and relevant. Anything that isn’t growing is…DEAD. Don’t be a deadhead…at least not in this sense of the word.

We all have to keep our boomer, millennial and gen Xer minds open to new ideas and new ways of getting jobs accomplished. This may mean trying things we are not fully convinced will work at the start. Yet, trying them all the same with the best intentions. Remember, there are millions of ways to accomplish tasks efficiently.  Ours may not be the best or most efficient.

Communication. Flexibility. Open-mindedness those are the core values of strong teams. Once those core values are rooted in a group, then, we can focus on team cohesion.

It’s kind of cool to be old enough to see the workforce changing. I enjoy seeing the evolution. But, it also means I have to change with it and work to provide resources that help others do the same. That’s my call. My gift. My challenge.  I’m working on a multi-generational training module now. I hope it serves to get people talking.

What do you think about working with other age groups?

Online Resources

Motivating Millennials Takes More than Flexible Work Policies

7 Ways Millennials Are Changing the Workplace for the Better

4 thoughts on “Working with people of different ages”

  1. Wow it’s quite strange to think of the different work approaches we’ve all grown up with. The way you describe the millenials is spot on to how I like to work.

    1. Yeah, I think they really thrive in a casual, free environment. I’m not a millennial, but my personality makes those types of workplaces great for me too.

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