For the first time in U.S. history, there are four generations in the workplace, working together as peers, subordinates and managers. This wide mix of age ranges has presented some new and very different corporate dynamics. Where you fall in the mix—as an older worker, a younger worker, or somewhere in the middle—can affect your perspective and how you relate to your colleagues.
This wide range of ages can mean very different communication styles, workplace practices, philosophies, and diverse approaches to accomplishing goals, not to mention contrasting wardrobe choices and social skills. The key to finessing these differences, regardless of your age in the spectrum, is to stay open to interacting with and to learning from each age group. Each generation brings unique abilities, knowledge and insight to your team that you can leverage to your advantage, regardless of your age or position.
If you are a younger worker, you may be intimidated by some of your older co-workers, or you may see them as hopelessly outdated and archaic. Either attitude closes you off from interacting with them in ways that can help you grow. Older women, in particular, are often eager to mentor younger colleagues today and to see them succeed, largely because they themselves likely didn’t have many helpful role models as they came up through the ranks. For a young woman in the early stages of her career, a female mentor can be a hugely positive influence and encouragement.
Those of us who are Baby Boomers may suddenly feel as though we’ve traveled through a time tunnel when we look around our offices. I encourage all of us who have some experience under our belts to look at this new age mix as an opportunity for own professional and personal growth, as well as a chance to mentor and advise younger coworkers. Many times, older workers automatically feel superior to and maybe even annoyed by their younger counterparts. Instead, open yourself up to truly interacting with these younger professionals by engaging them in discussions and by seeking their perspectives. Far from being a roadblock to our success, they can help us stay current about the latest trends, especially if they are fresh out of college. (Not to mention that they are usually whizzes with technology!)
If you are among the oldest in your workgroup, try not to let yourself be seen as “the elder.” Instead, remain engaged at all levels with everyone. Staying open to learning opportunities and to change is critical as you move through all stages of your career. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of feeling superior simply because you have more years of experience. And, don’t let yourself feel outmoded, either. Being curious yourself will make others interested in learning from you. A willingness to grow will help maintain your position as a key contributor to the group.