As millennials transition out of high school and college and into the working world, it becomes increasingly important to network with members of older generations. From professors to employers, we as millennials may be forced to associate with our elders on a daily basis. These interactions can be difficult and awkward if you aren’t sure how to approach them – but I’m here to help you out.
Generation X: Our Parents
To understand how to impress and cope with Gen-X, we should first examine the situation surrounding the generation’s upbringing.
Roughly between the ages of thirty and fifty, Generation X grew up through great change. They saw the rise of the computer, the Internet, and the cell phone. They grew up under financial struggle in tense households. They watched the unfolding of scandals like Watergate and Bill Clinton “not having sex” with Monica Lewinsky. As young adults, Gen-X dealt with divorce, custody battles, and their own financial difficulties.
These situations changed the values and skills of this age group into generation-specific attributes that we as millennials must be cognizant of when we work for or alongside them.
X-ers are known for learning quickly, as they saw the extreme changes in technology growing up. Thus, they value adaptability in an employee or coworker. When working with this generation, millennials should try to keep an open mind (as we are known for being able to do). Being willing to change will earn major points with Gen-X, and fast learning are key traits that employers from this generation will look for.
Their familial issues bled into their workplace standards as well, prompting emphasis on independence and self-reliance. Generation Y (the millennial generation) is not known for having excellent problem-solving skills – in fact, American millennials ranked lowest in an international problem-solving standardized test administered by Princeton researchers. This is a skill that millennials can and should work on if they want to improve relations with their older colleagues. A willingness to learn will come in handy in these situations.
Finally, because of the many scandals they witnessed across the nation, Gen-X is known for being skeptical. They may be suspicious of their employees or coworkers, and millennials should react accordingly. By being open to scrutiny and job performance evaluations, millennials can appease their employers and calm any apprehensive nerves.
The Baby Boomers: Our Grandparents
Generation X may be hard to get along with, but the bigger age divide comes between millennials and the Baby Boomers, who are generally between the ages of fifty and seventy. They grew up in times of war, with the Cold War and the fight to end communism worldwide, but they also witnessed the rise of space travel, an interesting technological advance that tugged at their sense of wonder. They were the “hippies” who fought for societal change. This generation represents a whopping 45% of the current workforce, so it’s likely that you’ll work with a Baby Boomer during your career.
When working with Baby Boomers, it is important to remember that this generation is known for thinking outside the box and going against authority. They will be right beside you when you question your boss’s respectability. That said, as they’ve aged, the Baby Boomers have become extremely hard workers that expect everyone to contribute as part of the team. Many of them seem to be afraid of retirement, a possible reason as to why they make up such a large portion of the workforce. It is crucial that millennials make this generation of colleagues feel that they are dedicated to the team. They want to see a strong work ethic, an issue that may be a challenge for millennials, as Generation Y tends to value family and lifestyle over work, and the Baby Boomers feel differently. Millennials should make sure they take their jobs seriously to earn the respect of this generation.
Despite this major difference, Baby Boomers were worry-free and especially open-minded in their younger years, a common ground that millennials can relate to. Together, these generations can work together to implement change in the workplace in a progressive and efficient manner.
The Traditionalists: Our Great-Grandparents
While there aren’t many left in the working world, the Baby Boomers’ parents, currently sixty to eighty-year-olds, greatly influenced modern-day corporate America. To fulfill the Traditionalists’ vision, millennials need to work to understand how this generation thinks, and how their experiences shaped their career values.
The Traditionalists grew up through the Great Depression, so they are known for being fiscally conservative about their money. This generation allowed many socialist-type of programs to be implemented in American government (like WPA and Social Security), largely due to their fear of another economic depression. Opposite to their children, they were focused on conformity, entrusting in authority and appreciating rules. They also saw the birth of space travel, World War II, and the rise of the importance of corporations in the American economy.
When working with Traditionalists, or their core values that were passed down in a company, millennials should be lenient about rule following and willing to accept seniority. Although it can be difficult for Gen-Y to merely accept new responsibilities, this may be necessary when working with Traditionalists. Don’t worry, though, millennials – soon, Baby Boomers will take their place, and you will once again be able to question authority.
It can be difficult for millennials to cope with the generational differences affecting them in the workplace, since the other generations seem to have many misconceptions about Generation Y as a whole. With these tips in mind, however, you can be confident that you’ll earn respect from your older colleagues.