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How to Relate to Your Co-workers When They’re All Younger Than You

Source | | Lindsey Pollak

Have you ever found yourself secretly checking or Google to decipher an acronym your boss used? Or been surprised by a colleague’s knowledge of the movie Cruel Intentions—only to discover they went to the “20th anniversary” showing of a movie you saw the day it originally came out?

The workplace has fundamentally changed over the past decade. According to a 2018 analysis by Pew Research Center, 35% of the labor force is comprised of Millennials, making it the largest generation in the U.S. workplace—and this number is only continuing to grow. Not to mention the fact that Generation Z is also now entering the workforce in big numbers. So if you’re in Generation X or older, chances are you’ll soon be surrounded by younger co-workers—if you’re not already. You may even work for someone who’s younger than you.

How can you handle this dynamic? Here are five tips to help you not only survive but thrive in an environment where your peers and leaders could be (much) younger than you.

1. Address Communication Differences

I love email, and I’m guessing my fellow Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers agree. But if you work with a younger peer, you may also find yourself being contacted via an emoji-laden text or asked to pivot your project communication to Slack.

Turns out that 80% of today’s workers say the primary difference between generations in the workplace is communication styles—and if you’re the only one clinging to your inbox, you might be the one who needs to change.

If your manager hasn’t set a preferred mode of communication, this gap can cause unnecessary inefficiencies and miscommunication issues. So now’s the time to ask and address it—and then adapt. I like to suggest that people initiate a “style conversation,” an idea I attribute to Michael Watkins and his book The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter. He suggests querying your boss on topics like what form of communication they prefer for routine matters—such as face-to-face, phone, or email—how often they want project updates, and if they prefer a summary of a situation or a lot of background.

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