A diverse workplace these days includes co-workers the age of your parents, or the age of your kids.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard/read/discussed/been frustrated about the topic “working with millennials,” I would have enough money to just travel the world making a difference. I know that’s a pretty “millennial” thing to say, but it feels true. The adjustments required for businesses today to adapt to a different, younger workforce is not a new problem. My grandfather once told me about returning from serving in the Air Force after the Korean War and having to gain the respect of his older colleagues when he first worked in operations at United Airlines. He persisted and eventually created the operations system that was used by the entire company for decades.
In order to progress and be successful, all organizations will need people of different ages, experiences and backgrounds. Below I’ve outlined a few tips for millennials when working with people who aren’t your age.
Accept you have less experience as a fact.
This is a tough one for me. As a millennial, I care a less about years of experience and more about the type of employee you are and the quality of your work and ideas. I learned about this when working for a prominent congressman in DC. In his mind, the sheer length of his life experience would always trump mine.
It took time for me to gain his trust and for him to see my intuition could be valuable. In many cases, it proved just as valuable as his life experience. This process required patience on my end, but because of that patience, he never once brought up that I was the youngest Communications Director on Capitol Hill. I learned that accepting my inexperience was not a negative thing, but that it could be an opportunity.
Be eager to learn.
I love storytelling. It’s why I work in public relations. One of the things I’ve learned is to ask my more practiced colleagues to tell me stories about times they learned something from an experience or a boss. It’s a fantastic opportunity for them to reflect on their past experiences and I’ve learned a lot from asking these types of questions.
Ask questions like, “I’ve been out of school for a year. What would be your advice to me in this situation?” If you’re confused about a decision or direction, sincerely ask, “Can you give me some perspective that will help me understand your decision?” Showing that you’re interested and willing to learn from others, especially those who’ve been in your industry longer than you, can be rewarding. It also helps counter the fact that many people believe that millennials are only self-interested.
Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.
I’m proud to be part of a generation that is more passionate about giving back than any previous generation. The flip side of this passion can be that we are very engaged in our work and we can forget to focus on the business at hand. Remember that at the end of the day, most decisions are based on financial motivators and aren’t personal. Removing emotion from your decisions and discussions will only help you to be successful.
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
I realized quickly in my career that getting annoyed when people told jokes about my age just didn’t help me. I play along, and when appropriate I’ll respond with a joke as well. Keep in mind that while this banter can be frustrating, your colleagues likely don’t mean anything by it. If it does have a negative connotation, use it as an opportunity to prove them wrong.
In my opinion, this is the most important issue that my generation needs to work on. I’ve been so frustrated with my friends, family and people I manage for expecting too much too soon. If we don’t get promoted right when we think we should, we often give up. I’ve been guilty of expecting to be recognized earlier than is reasonable. I’ve also left companies that haven’t recognized what I’m worth. The important thing to remember is to make sure your company knows where you’re at and that you give it time. Don’t be afraid to talk to your manager about your concerns but also remember that your timeline is likely not theirs. My grandpa worked at United Airlines for decades, and my father worked at HP for over thirty years.
The difference between the millennial career experience and our predecessor’s is that we don’t have clear cut career paths. This can lead to unclear expectations as well as confusion about where you stand. Don’t let this stop you. We can learn a lot from our colleagues. Let’s band together and prove the negative stereotypes about millennials false.
This article was originally featured on Entrepreneur.com on May 2, 2017.