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Things People Should Never Say To A Younger Co-Worker

6 Apr

With Gen Yers breaking into the workforce at astounding rates, the office environment is becoming more diverse age-wise. Baby Boomers are now working beside a much younger and more ambitious Generation Y. With the vast difference in age, there can be miscommunications and differences in perspective. What seems appropriate to the Baby Boomers may be completely inappropriate to Gen Yers, and visa versa. Sure, older generations have their complaints about Generation Y – such as Gen Yers don’t respect their elders and are lazy at work, but despite the difference of opinion or one’s distaste with another generation, there are certain things that should not be said to younger co-workers.

Never Ask If They Are The New Intern

There is nothing more embarrassing than believing that you look professional and grown up and yet still getting asked if you are the new intern. I was asked this question once by a client that I had spent an hour in a meeting with. Not only did the question catch me completely off guard, but it made me feel completely incapable. I had to tell the client that I had recently graduated from college and started working, which was something that made me feel younger than I actually am. Being asked by someone in your company if you are the new intern would be even worse. Yes, the new person may look young, but never ask if they are an intern. Always assume that they are a full-time worker unless otherwise notified.

Never Ask, “So, how old are you anyways?”

Haven’t we all been taught that we never ask a woman her age? This rule applies to young women as well as old women. Sure, older women loved being carded and told that they look younger than they are, but younger women do not like having to explain to co-workers how they got such a great job at such a young age. Besides, age really shouldn’t matter in the workplace. The only thing that matters is productivity, and if the person is producing good work, who cares, right?

Never Say That Your Children Are Their Age

This comment is really inappropriate to make because it sends the message that you think of your younger co-worker as being your child and not an equal. This can make the younger employee feel uncomfortable and inferior, which is not good for team building.

Never Say, “This is the real world, kid”

At my first post law school job I was complaining to HR about the vacation system and how I had no idea that the vacation days had to be accrued based on days worked. I mean, how was I supposed to know that two weeks didn’t mean two weeks from the very first day I started working? Rather than being polite and explaining the system to me, the HR lady said, “what did you expect, this is the real world.”

I remember being completely taken aback by her comment and then overcome with emotion and embarrassment at the fact that she assumed I was acting like it wasn’t the “real world.” I wasn’t so much upset by the comment itself, but by the way the comment made me feel like a complete idiot. Being the emotional wreck that I often am, I ended up getting teary-eyed in the woman’s office, which created a whole other issue of embarrassment.

So, the lesson to learn is to never tell the younger co-worker “this is the real world, kid.” Not only will that hurt their feelings, but it will make your co-worker despise you.

Never Point Out The Fact That They Are Young In Front of Clients Or Executives

I remember sitting in on a meeting with a co-worker from my company and an older client. The two started talking about something that had happened in the 70’s, and the co-worker said, “she was way too young to know what happened then.” We all laughed about it and I didn’t make it seem like a big deal, but it made me feel uncomfortable and young. Yes, maybe I don’t “remember” what happened because I wasn’t alive, but that doesn’t mean I am not up on my history. Making comments about how young a co-worker is in front of a client or executive can make the client uncomfortable about working with that younger person and can make the executive doubt the co-worker’s abilities.

It is always important to be cognizant of the age differences in the workplace. Just as a younger employee should not make comments to older employees about them being alive in the Stone Age, older employees should not make comments suggesting that the younger employee is too young.

Have you ever experienced any of these comments?

What Older Generations Need to do to Accomodate Millennials in the Workplace

20 Jan

I have been reading a lot about the struggle the Baby Boomers (and sometimes Gen X) are having adapting to the Millennials (or Gen Y) who are now entering and compromising a large portion of the workplace. Oftentimes we hear the older generations complaining that Millennials are lazy, lack social skills, feel entitled, and lack respect for authority. While some of those characterizations may be true to some extent, I think the tension in the workplace is coming from the older generation’s failure to adapt to the new and modern employee. Sure, us Gen Y folks speak our mind, leave a job when we feel bored, want to have our lives driven by passion, and know how to use all kinds of technology that often scare the older generations, but is that such a bad thing? Wasn’t it the Baby Boomers and the Gen Xers who made the Millennials who they are? Wasn’t it the older generations who told us to speak our minds and that we could do anything we wanted to do? So why is there so much tension between the older generations and the new and modern Gen Y employees? I think it is because the two generations fail to adequately understand one another, and the older generations really fail to understand that Gen Y is a completely new breed of employee.

For those of you who don’t know, there is a lot of generational research done on this particular topic. If you do a quick Amazon search on the Gen Y topic a lot of books complaining about the Millennials pop up. I took the opportunity to skim some of those books, and here is what I learned about the different generations in a nut shell.

The Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) experienced Vietnam, the Cold War, Watergate, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the TV making an appearance in many homes and the rise of some of our favorite TV shows such as The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island, the rise of Rock & Roll, the emergence of Credit Cards, the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination, the Kennedy assassination, and the landing on the moon (or the fake landing for those of you who are conspiracy theorists). The Baby Boomers love to work hard and use the advents of new technology to do more work, not necessarily to make their work more efficient. Baby Boomers are not as close to their parents as more recent generations and often distrust government (doesn’t everyone?).

The Generation X folks (born between 1965 and 1977) experienced the  emergence of the AIDS epidemic, the Persian Gulf War, increasing divorce rates, video games, and MTV. Gen Xers are often cautious and conservative with their money, they grew up in a time where both parents worked and became known as “Latch-Key Kids,” they are well-educated, they are skeptical of authority, and they are not as interested in long-term careers as the Baby Boomers were.

Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, (born between 1978 and 1996, or as some say, 1980-2000) experienced 9/11, the emergence of terrorism, the Columbine tragedy, the Virginia Tech tragedy, the Pop music and boy band/girl band movement (NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, the Dixie Chicks and the Spice Girls), the emergence of cell phones, text messaging (and now sext messaging), and the emergence of social media and social networking. Millennials like to work in teams, speak their mind, and challenge opinions and decisions when they feel like it. They want constant feedback at work, would rather have a life than be married to their career, and have a deep desire to feel appreciated and stimulated at work.

Now that I have provided you with somewhat of a background on the various groups (although I am sure it is not exhaustive) that are now compromising the workplace, here are some of my tips on how the older generations can work with Millennials:

Provide Constructive Criticism & Positive Feedback (Constantly)

Millennials grew up in a home environment where their parents “coddled” them. While the term “coddle” could be negative, I think it can also be a positive. It means that the Gen Yer’s parents took an interest in their lives and continue to remain a large part of their lives. Because the parents were more involved, they gave their children more attention. This constant attention then left the Millennials with a constant need for feedback. It isn’t good enough that there is a year-end review in the workplace. It isn’t good enough that a boss walks into a Millennial’s office and says “thanks for finishing that for me.” Baby Boomers and Gen Xers need to provide the Millennials with constructive criticism and positive feedback. And this constructive criticism and positive feedback needs to be rather frequent – not once a year.  If a boss comes into a Millennials’ office and criticizes their work, they are left feeling deflated. This deflated feeling in turn discourages them from working hard, and eventually can lead to them leaving the job in pursuit of something more gratifying.

While the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers need to work harder to ensure that the Millennials are receiving constant feedback, the Millennials need to understand that their employer is not their parent. The employer doesn’t always feel the need to “pump your tires” as my husband would say. Know that your employer is not always going to understand your need for constant feedback and is not always going to lift you up when you are feeling low. And if you find that they are not providing you with the amount of feedback you want, then go ask them for it.

Offer More Flexible Schedules

Oftentimes I hear older generations complaining that Millennials are lazy. While it may appear that they are lazy because they value their lives more than their work, Millenials so in fact have a desire to work hard and feel accomplished. Older generations need to understand that Millennials don’t always feel the need to sit behind a desk to accomplish their tasks. They could be sitting in Starbucks, on their couch, or on a beach. They understand the need to produce good results, but they also want some flexibility on how they are required to do so. If employers in fields that allow for such flexibility provide the Millennials with the option to work at home a few days a week, they may see some good results. In return, the Millennials need to understand that flexibility is not always an option in entry-level positions. They need to focus on working hard in the beginning so they can later have some of that flexibility they are desiring.

Try to Facilitate Team Oriented Projects

Millennials were raised in a generation where team building activities, group projects, and cooperation were key. Many older generations often complain that the Millennials would rather discuss ideas by walking into another employee’s office instead of doing so in a conference room meeting. What the older generations fail to understand is that Millennials like to think out loud and like to collaborate with their co-workers. Rather than complaining about this collaborative instinct, employers should try to enhance it by putting the right mix of people together  to work on projects. In return, Millennials need to understand that not all work projects can be done in teams.

Create More Exciting Projects and Opportunities

Millennials are often criticized for leaving a job when they feel unmotivated, unstimulated, or bored. Employers used to worry about getting the most talented people into certain open positions. Now they are worried about how to keep those talented people in their company. As many companies have realized, Millennials are not afraid to up and leave their current job.  In an effort to keep employees interested, employers need to create more exciting projects and opportunities for their Millennial employees. Allow them to participate in volunteer opportunities under the company’s name, ask them if they want to be involved in certain projects outside of their comfort zone, and ask them if they are happy with the work you are giving them. Millennials should make sure that they know what they are getting into before they accept the job. While you cannot always know how a particular job will be before you take it, you can interview your potential employer and see whether the work environment is one you could see youselves in.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, employers need to understand that the new generation of workers are different from them. Millennials are driven by passion and the desire to feel accomplished and do good for their community. Rather than focusing on the negative aspect of the newer generation and the differences between the generations, employers should focus on how to adequately utilize the Millennials’ skills. Whether older generations want to face it or not, the Millennials are the future. If employers fail to realize this, and fail to adapt to the Millennials, they won’t keep those talented Millennials on board for very long.

Why Are Gen Yers Always Unhappy?

18 Jan

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Why does it always seem that my Gen Y friends either don’t have jobs or are completely unhappy in their current job? Yes, I know the economy is bad, but is it really that bad that it takes you over a year to find a job? Any job? I doubt it. Gen Y is the fastest growing group in the workforce, so why are there so many unemployed?

I recently spoke to a friend about her career prospects. She told me that she had recently quit a decent job because she was “unhappy” when she was there. My first reaction was to ask her why she would quit a job without another one lined up (I have never understood why people think that is ok to do). She proceeded to tell me that she would rather be jobless than be unhappy. When I asked her by what she meant when she said that she was “unhappy” she told me that she was bored, unmotivated, and unstimulated. She was bored because she wasn’t being given enough work, but when I asked I discovered that she hadn’t really asked to be given more work. She was unmotivated because she didn’t like the type of work she was doing. It was too “easy” and not “challenging enough.” Again, she never asked for harder, more challenging work assignments. She was unstimulated because she wasn’t getting work that she was excited about, and as you can probably guess, she never asked for more exciting work. “How can you expect to get better assignments when you don’t ask?” I asked her. “They should know,” was her answer.

My friend then told me that she had applied for unemployment, was getting about $400 a week (WHAT!) and was looking for a new job. Now, I have never been unemployed so I was a little shocked to hear how much money she was receiving per week, but to top it off she told me that she received a job offer for a mediocre company but declined it because it wasn’t what she wanted to be doing with her life. After hanging up the phone with my friend I started thinking about what it truly meant to be “happy” at work. If you asked some people happiness would be a steady paycheck, but to my friend it means being excited every day that you go to work. This made me wonder, is anyone out there “happy” all of the time? Is anyone out there absolutely excited about everything they do at work? Maybe actors, but my guess is that there are times in everyone’s career where they are bored, unmotivated, and unstimulated.

In thinking about happiness at work I thought about how people used to spend their entire careers at one particular job. We have all heard of the grandpa that spent his life working at a factory, or a car dealership, or in the family business, haven’t we? It seems that back in the day people didn’t jump from career to career. Rather, they stayed with the one position that they were lucky enough to get straight out of school. In thinking about these types of people I wondered if they were happy with their job the entire time that they worked there. I ultimately came to the conclusion that while they could have been moderately happy with their work environment or the people they worked with, if they weren’t moving up the career ladder they probably felt as my friend felt at her last job – unmotivated. So what made those people stick it out?  Why have things changed so much for those in Gen Y making it ok to jump from career to career and go for months at a time without working?

Some people would argue that the young folks in Gen Y jump from career to career because they feel “entitled.” My first gut reaction is to argue against this, but I am starting to think that maybe this is true (of course not for all Gen Yers). Maybe the Gen Yers have had it too easy in life, which has in turn made them think that it is ok to wait it out in search of the perfect career.  Maybe society has embedded this idea in their heads that the pursuit of happiness is the ultimate life goal, and anything that interferes with such pursuit be damned. 

While I love my dear friend, I am worried that she will spend her entire career looking for the “right” job. What would that mean for the economy? While I am no economic expert, I tend to think that those who jump from one job to another or who leave one job and remain on unemployment for a year (or more!) are digging themselves and the economy into a bigger hole. Ask yourself this, what employer wants to hire someone who has been out of the workforce for a year? Maybe some do, but to me being out of work for a year either means you don’t have any skills that people want, you are not a likeable person, or you are extremely picky and probably difficult to work with.

Sure, I quit my last job because I felt like I wasn’t growing as much as I should be and I wasn’t always being challenged. Maybe that is a Gen Y thing to think about, but at least I didn’t quit my job without another lined up. In fact I never even missed a pay period. I do think that happiness in one’s career and life are important, but I think those Gen Yers who are sitting at home just waiting for the right opportunity to fall into their lap are missing the big picture. The first job you hold is not going to be the last. No one ever said that your first job would be your most stimulating either. If Gen Yers keep sitting around waiting for something to come to them they are not going to be able to have a house, a car, or a family.

Do you know a Gen Yer who is sitting around waiting for the “perfect” job?