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How younger and older employees can work in harmony

How younger and older employees can work in harmony Josh Dreller

In the digital marketing industry, three predominant generations make up our workforce: Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials. But beware, labels can be misleading. If you assume anything about the personal behavior of one person based on their label, at best, you'll be wrong a third of the time. For example, at 38, I display the classic Gen X characteristic of questioning the status quo. If you were to assume that about me just because of my age, you would be right in my case but not with a random sampling of ten other Gen Xers.

Lisa O'Keefe, VP of talent and culture for BrightTag, prefers to recruit professionals that are not caught up in useless labels and focus on more important criteria to make the best hiring decisions. "One of the core values of BrightTag is to hire people who are open minded and curious," O'Keefe said. "We find that mindset knows no generational bounds and instead, results in a lot of interesting discussion and learning from each other. Because we work in such a collaborative environment and tend to be pretty like-minded, it usually takes a generational topic to remind us that we share different history." So, when can labels be helpful? The AARP paper, "Leading a Multigenerational Workforce," takes a very interesting stance on what you can learn about our differing generations in order to figure out how we can best work together. The study focuses on the environmental forces at play during a particular generation's formative years. Unlike behavior stereotypes that could vary from person to person in a generation, exogenous factors such as world events, advances in technology, and other defining moments were shared by the entire group.

How to get young and old employees to work in harmony

The takeaway here is to not allow labels to predispose how you think a person will behave, but to understand the events and environment that shaped their perspective. From this information, you can learn to embrace generational differences and find ways to leverage these variances and not allow them to fester with unaddressed tension.

The following is a summary of some of the AARP findings. I also asked a member of each generation in our industry to offer a few words of wisdom to their generational colleagues on how they've found best to work with the other two groups.

Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)

Seminal events: The rise of television, space exploration, Civil Rights movement, Women's lib, Woodstock, MLK Jr. and President Kennedy assassinated, Vietnam and the Cold War.

Baby Boomers were told they could be anything they wanted to be. So many legacy ideas were challenged during their upbringing that they believe in the power of one person to make change. Baby Boomers tend to be very socially conscious and make the time to give back. They were taught to work hard and defined their personal worth by their work ethic and devotion to family.

Bill Furlong (Baby Boomer), VP business development, Bizo 
"I think for the first time we actually have four generations working together from the Silent (World War II era) generation to Millennials. Being a Boomer in a relatively young industry, I have become accustomed to being the elder statesman and have found a few practices that work well. First, I remember the lessons learned when I first became a manager in my late twenties and had a sales force with an average age of fifty-something. 'Respect, listen, collaborate, and don't be too quick with decisions' were what I learned worked best. Specifically, listening well is still very important into today's environment. While I have been a CEO in the past, I am now a mid-level executive reporting to a younger person. These lessons are invaluable to building relationships up and down and at all age brackets.

From my perspective, it's not advisable to flaunt one's experience, but leverage it when called upon -- that is why you were hired! And managing younger employees, it's not a micromanagement game like it was when I started in the media business. Meritocracy and performance is the general rule now. I try not to let age enter into the equation, but prefer to respect the inherent nuances that each generation generally adopts from a values standpoint. Age can also be over analyzed; remember that at end of day you are working with -- or for -- unique individuals that aren't only perceived by their age, but by their unique skill sets, demeanors, and communication styles."

Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980)

Seminal events: The rise of personal computing, AIDS, global energy crisis, the Berlin Wall and communism falls, Tiananmen Square, Chernobyl disaster, and the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

Gen Xers saw many of their heroes fall with scandals in the church, in corporate business, and even with presidents. This is a generation defined by skyrocketing divorce rates and single-parent and "both parents who work" households. They learned to be independent early and will question authority if they feel it doesn't adapt to change. Conversely, this same inquisitive attitude can drive Gen Xers to think outside the box in order to get the job done with minimal supervision.

Eric Feinberg (Gen Xer), senior director of mobile, media, and entertainment at ForeSee

"I am a member of Generation X. We sit squarely at the crossroads of our analog past and our digital future. We have the memory of what it's like to not have a TV remote control but are unafraid to master new technologies. This makes us very comfortable working both with our Baby Boomer and Millennial counterparts, and we can also serve as a great bridge between the two other groups.

Everyone is an individual, and you should approach colleagues as such, not just as members of a generation. However, there are some general guidelines that can be helpful. For Boomers, I find that a bit more formality and respectfulness is appreciated, whether you report to them or they report to you. I recommend in-person meetings with clear agendas. Be present, pay attention to eye contact, and try not to be a slave to your phone -- do not check texts and email every two minutes.

Millennials generally expect and are comfortable with far less formality, but remember that you are the elder statesperson so you set the tone, cadence, and flow of your interactions. Consider shorter, laser-focused meetings instead of marathon meetings -- try meeting on the way to grab coffee or over drinks. Freely use your phone or tablet to show examples (laptops are archaic) and confirm your meeting via text or instant message five minutes before you're about to meet. Model good work habits and business practices through example, but don't assume you are wiser or more skilled just because you're older."

Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000)

Seminal events: The rise of the internet, Nelson Mandela released, Oklahoma City bombing, Princess Diana dies, Columbine High School shootings, IRAQ war, Hurricane Katrina, and the tsunami in Asia.

Millennials grew up using computers and being the busiest generation of children ever. They see the world as a connected, single global unit and have been taught to embrace multiculturalism and diversity. Parents were encouraged to address adult issues much earlier including sex, drug use, and disease concerns. Millennials are social media mavens and will share intimate details with their peers that previous generations would have never shared. They've seen average people just like themselves become celebrities overnight.

Sara Rennich (Millennial), media technology supervisor at Kelly Scott Madison
"As a Millennial, I have come to understand that recognizing the key differences among generations is important in approaching my career and advancing to the next level. Millennials have grown up accustomed to constant communication, teamwork situations, and an environment fueled by feedback and acknowledgement.

In contrast, Gen Xers are self-sufficient and prefer more of a hands-off management approach. I have found it helpful, however, to reach out to these Gen Xers for performance reviews to make sure I am improving myself and maintaining a certain level of communication. Knowing Baby Boomers are considered the hardest working generation, I think it is important for Millennials to portray their strong work ethic, since we are unfortunately often perceived as lazy and unmotivated. Giving a Baby Boomer the perception that we, as Millennials, are equally career driven and ambitious is important in gaining respect in the workplace." 

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"Formal business team portrait of different generations" image via Shutterstock.

As a media technologist fluent in the use of leading industry systems, Josh Dreller stays abreast of cutting edge digital marketing and measurement tools to maximize the effect of digital media on client goals. He has achieved platform certification...

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