When it comes to millennials, I hear it all. I hear from Generation X and baby boomers that millennials are entitled, selfish, naïve and too busy looking at their social media to be effective at work. I hear from millennials that their older colleagues and managers are judgmental, rigid and unfair and don’t give them reasonable opportunities to grow and shine.
How do we communicate across this chasm to work together?
Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000. They are digital natives who are comfortable with technology, which makes them enormously valuable in today’s workplace. They are also not the only generation to struggle to be seen and heard. I remember, in the 1990s, as a late 20-something, asking a professor how to be taken seriously in my work with parents of small children. Her reply: “Don’t worry; you’ll get older.” She was right, but she also completely missed the point.
So many of us — from all generations — have struggled with the same challenges: How do I figure out what to do with my life? How do I secure a job that requires experience when I can’t gain experience without a job? How can I move ahead when my company isn’t offering me opportunities or mentoring?
Add in some serious disdain for the entire generation, and it’s a recipe for workplaces to miss out on some brilliant insight from millennials.
Here are some suggestions for all generations to help make work a win-win for everyone. I’ll start with a suggestion for everyone — millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers alike: Earn respect, and show respect. Do what you can do make the workplace better by believing that everyone has value. Even if you don’t see it yet, each person has something to teach you and deserves to have a chance and be at the table. Give respect, and it will come back to you.
Gen Xers and baby boomers, here are some tips on how to bring out the strengths of millennials in the workplace:
Remember that everyone was new once. It may be challenging to observe a 20- or 30-something trying to find their way, but we all were there once. Give them a little slack.
Don’t complain about millennials; help them. Show them how things are done and how to get ahead. Remember that when they ask “Why?”, saying, “Because we’ve always done things this way” is often not a good response. Be willing to dig in with them, and you both can understand how things became the way they are and how to make them better.
Ask millennials for help on technology issues that stump you—or on any other issues. Don’t know who Lil Nas is? Or how Instagram works? Or why people Snapchat? Ask! I wasn’t completely comfortable when I asked a millennial to show me how Facebook Live works, but she helped me, and now I can post like a pro!
Millennials, now it’s your turn. Here are some suggestions that can help make your work life easier and more productive.
As much as I hate to be the one to break it to you, life isn’t always fair. You don’t always receive the job, raise or credit you deserve. Some people don’t want to mentor you (it’s not personal). You may experience discrimination or harassment, and bad people often aren’t brought to justice. Don’t let it throw you. Keep going, and keep fighting for what is right. Remember that many of the people older than you fought the good fight, too. They may have ideas on how you can raise the roof more effectively … together.
Be patient. Understand that we all have our own experiences and strengths. My baby boomer mother is not comfortable texting, much less using social media. But she understands work politics and can accomplish things at work in a way I hope someday to match. We all have things to learn. Actively choose to learn from others, and share what you know.
Focus on developing relationships. One of the most important factors in being successful at work is having strong positive relationships with your colleagues, staff and managers. Intentionally nurture relationships. Compliment and thank others freely (and authentically). As you change organizations or offices, maintain your relationships. The world works in mysterious ways, and you never know when you’ll see those people again.
I believe that despite all of the many, many challenges, there is value to working together, to acknowledging our differences, and to choosing to see each challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow. As we seek to understand each other, help each other and see each other across the generations, we will create new possibilities.