In this article, guest writer Michelle Jackson shares her insights on managing college-aged employees and offers tips on how soon-to-be or recent college graduates can succeed in an intergenerational workspace.
When you’ve just graduated college and secured that first job, it’s only natural to be nervous about how things will work out -- in terms of responsibilities, promotions, and the people that you’ll work with. More often than not, you’ll be working with people your age, older, and much older than you. That’s the nature of the workforce. As a recent graduate, it’s also important to understand the steps you can take to thrive in that intergenerational work environment.
As a Student Services Coordinator at a major university in Colorado, I supervised a large number of college-aged employees. A crucial responsibility of my position was to help student staff develop skills that would help them transition into their post-collegiate professional lives. Here are some tips.
The aging workforce
In America and worldwide, companies and individuals are experiencing a new work reality. As people live longer, their time spent as members of the workforce also grows. We now have the following generations in the workforce: the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials.
In my work with students, it was intergenerational communication that was one of the “soft-skills” that many struggled with. They were finding themselves in positions of authority or collaboration with colleagues who were older than them for the first time. Managing those situations was tricky. Students were often hyper aware of their age and were ill at ease with their professional standing.
There were a number of sticky situations that came up throughout my years as a supervisor, but the following situation was particularly challenging. One of the student assistants called a group of people working in the office “so old!” Ouch! It was just a mindless slip of the tongue but the damage was done. Several people's feelings were hurt and they felt disrespected.
While the individual who made the comment was a wonderful employee who made the comment off hand, intending no ill will, it did create strained working relations for some time after.
Adapting from the start
Realistically, you will almost always be working with individuals from different generations. In fact, it would be very unusual to only work with people your own age or close to your age. Because of this, it is important to learn how to manage your interactions with your colleagues of all ages. That way, you won’t unintentionally antagonize, anger, or create a situation that will be difficult to rebound from in the long run.
The following are 6 steps may be helpful to you as you transition into a multi-generational workplace.
Don’t call people old, and avoid referring to how young you are when not very explicitly relevant. Age can be a touchy subject, and bringing it up can be rude and ignorant of how people feel about their own lives. Likewise, your colleagues shouldn’t point out your youth, either. The use of your youth to diminish the value of your work is equally disrespectful.
If you’re supervising older colleagues, be mindful that having a younger supervisor may stress them out a bit until you both become more comfortable with each other. As long as you’re managing your interactions with your colleagues with a high level of professionalism and respect, you should be fine. Demand the same respect from them in return. You have that leadership position for a reason.
Don’t pretend that differences between the generations don’t exist. Even though you should be mindful of bringing attention to the ages of your colleagues, it’s important to acknowledge that there are different life experiences that you and your colleagues have had and can bring to the table. The end result is what matters: a collaborative, dynamic team that works like a well-oiled machine.
Utilize the tools you are provided to manage intergenerational communication. Take workshops that align your skills with those of people who have been in the field far longer than you have. Teach and learn about different methods of doing things, communicating, and make everyone feel involved at all times.
Consider the opportunities that a multiple generation workspace offers. These older professionals have serious experience and lessons under their belt and connecting with them as mentors and teachers can provide tremendous benefit to your skillset and career. Even if technology has changed or an industry is transforming around them, these peers in senior positions have universally applicable knowledge.
Share your expertise! Regardless of age, everyone has a skill or expertise that can be shared with their colleagues. What can you share that will provide professional value to your co-workers? Are you an expert at a specific computer program? Do you speak a foreign language? Are you great at logistics? Do you have a professional connection that can help you with a work related project? Consider how you can enrich the careers of your colleagues, who may have less experience with the things you’re an expert at.
Benefits for your career
Being able to communicate with people from different generations will help you better manage the different clients who will cross your path during your workday. Developing an intuitive ability to work with others well and being mindful of how your behavior can either undermine or grow your role within your workspace is the key to expanding your professional presence and creating longevity in your career.
Your connection with your colleagues, regardless of their age, will have a long-term ripple effect on your career. It’s your responsibility to plant those seeds today.