Adventures of a 50-Year-Old Intern: The Workplace Generation Gap

Generational Gap in the Workplace

If it’s been a long while since you’ve worked full-time, you’ll likely notice two things when you return to the work force—computers and computer-based technologies have revolutionized the modern office, and your coworkers are now younger than you.

Much has been written about the dynamics between younger bosses and older employees, but a lot of those issues stem from differences in communication styles. I’ve been working part-time for several years now while I raise my family, and I have always gotten along well with my bosses and coworkers no matter their age. There’s no mysterious trick to this, I just treat everyone with respect.

Here are a few useful tips to help baby-boomers and their younger counterparts see eye-to-eye:

My Advice To The Older Generation
1. Sure Mom, O.K. Dad
Your youthful coworkers want to be compared to your kids about as much as you want to be told you remind them of their parents, or worse yet, their grandparents. Talk about your children when its appropriate, but never by way of comparison. Offer personal advice only when asked—no one wants to be parented at work.

2. Check Your Email…A Lot
Post baby-boomers like to communicate electronically…even when they are sitting right next to you. It’s their equivalent of note-taking, only in reverse. When you tell your coworkers something, they will often ask you to email them the  information, as they will be doing with you throughout the day. (Email frequency rates can be calculated in reverse proportion to the sender’s age.)

My Advice to the Younger Generation
1. Tell Us How Often You Want Us To Check Our Emails
Instant communication methods may have revolutionized the 9 to 5 workday, but old habits are hard to break. If you want to email us outside the workday, and expect to receive an answer before the next workday, make that clear. Otherwise we’re probably thinking we’re “off the clock”.

2. Head to Foot
If a younger boss wants to gain the respect of older employees,  just  look them straight in the eye. Face to face conversation is what we value. Don’t settle for surrounding yourself with younger workers because you feel more comfortable with them. Experienced workers really do have a lot to offer and you’ll ultimately be shooting yourself in the foot anyway—you will be the older worker someday.

3. The Art of Social Interaction
My generation is adept at reading facial expressions, intonation and body language in order to communicate effectively. No matter how helpful  :)  or  :(  or  !!!  can be in an email message, knowing what you want us to think you feel is not the same thing as knowing how you feel. Someday your generation will be in charge of the world and I, for one, don’t want the leader with the nuclear missiles pointed in our direction to misread the tone of your email 😮 !

What is your advice for older and younger workers or bosses? Share your comments here.

Read Part 1: Adventures of a 50-Year Old Intern: Returning to Work

Read Part 2: Adventures of a 50-Year-Old Intern: The Comfort Zone

Read Part 3: Adventures of a 50-Year-Old Intern: Managing the Internet