5 tips for successful cross-generational interactions at work, from one millennial’s perspective

My alternate title for this blog post was, “If you bring up the research that says I’m lazy and self-entitled, I’ll scream.”

So, yeah, I’m a millennial.

Hi, nice to meet you.

I can’t speak to any of the “characteristics” of my generation or others, but I can guarantee* all millennials have sat through a meeting, conference call or presentation in which our generation was brought up, analyzed, discussed – all without an acknowledgement that we are in the room.

Please don’t do that – to any generation (or any “group” of people, really). Come on, I’m sitting right here!

Anyway, it’s pretty frustrating when that happens. In fact, cross-generational interactions can often be described as frustrating. This is particularly true for people that don’t interact regularly with colleagues from other generations.

But we can’t let ourselves be frustrated – the generations need each other. (Institutional knowledge, experience and expertise, digital savviness, fresh ideas and energy – etc., etc.)With that in mind, here are five tips to get past these cross-generational frustrations and move on to having regular old work relationships (it’s possible!):

  • Don’t talk about the other generation like they aren’t in the room. I already mentioned this above, but it is worth repeating. For one thing, it’s rude. For another, it isn’t productive – bring millennials into the conversation instead of having the conversation about us.
  • Please avoid bringing up your children or your grandparents. I do not have an opinion on whether your 7-year-old daughter should be allowed to have Lisa Frank school supplies. (What? Lisa Frank isn’t a thing anymore? See how old I am!)That was a dramatization. I understand that children or grandparents may be our only experience with another generation. I do think it’s kind of demeaning though – I am pretty sure you aren’t taking me seriously when you associate me a child. Similarly, my grandmas are awesome, but I don’t think you’d appreciate it if I relate you to them. Which brings me to my next tip…
  • Keep one-on-one conversations focused on work, mostly. Work is likely the area you will have the most in common and it is therefore the safest of topics. I am getting crushed by student loan debt so I really cannot relate to your month-long vacation at a luxury resort in the Bahamas.As with any other human interaction, once you have a solid relationship with the other individual, you will find more areas in common, but stick to work at first. Or, you know, the weather.
  • Feel free to ask my perspective on something work-related “as a millennial.” I’ll do my best, but know it’s probably just my opinion I’m giving you. It’s easy to forget a generation isn’t monolithic – it’s really made up of a lot of individuals. Yes, many of us pesky whipper-snappers grew up on social media, but it doesn’t mean we’re all the same (it just means we can post photos on Facebook in our sleep). If you really want pesky whipper-snappers’ opinion on something, you probably need to talk to a lot of us (which I definitely encourage).
  • Above all, treat each other like colleagues, not aliens. This should be pretty straightforward. I have a lot of value to add, you have a lot of value to add – see how that works?

“Great advice! Now what?” I can hear you saying in your head. You’re in luck. Here’s what you should do: If you can’t name 10 people from another generation that you work with regularly, go expand your network accordingly. I promise this is in your best interest. It’s a proven fact* that the scariness of millennials decreases in direct proportion to the number of us you meet.

So, hi, I’m a millennial – and it’s nice to meet you.

*I cannot actually guarantee this, but it’s probably true.
*OK, fine. It’s a hunch.

About author View all posts

Stephanie Harig

Stephanie Harig is a communications professional, with a diverse range of specialties, including investor relations and sustainability communications. She runs for fun, stands up at work and prefers to walk up escalators. Other interests include cooking from scratch and reading voraciously. She and her husband live in Brooklyn Heights.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I absolutely loved this blog! While I would like to consider myself still young (Gen X) — I have definitely made some of these mistakes — so thank you for the direction. Will try to put these to good use today!

  • Hello Stephanie. A friend of mine also blogs for She in the CLE and I’m excited for it as a venue for women writers, and for CLE! I am from CLE, but moved last year to Portland, mostly because I couldn’t get work at my age -I had spent most of my career elsewhere and tried to come home to an ageist culture and a poor economy, too late it seems. No such problem in Portland, both culturally and economically.

    I have seen a number of articles lately addressing inter-generational relationships in the workplace. For articles on bigger venues it is hard to judge the age of the person writing, so I won’t say “all the millennials’ etc. In fact I believe I have read articles on the topic written by people from several age groups.

    Each one, though, has taken only one perspective – the millennials – the tips always focus on things like not being condescending, what not to talk or ask about, how to not thwart contributions, etc. Most of the tips share important insight. Some seem cynical and sarcastic. Not one article though has also included the needs and perspectives of older generations. I find that so peculiar.

    Is that because the assumption is that the older person is always in power over the millennial? Also, Isn’t the workplace/hasn’t it always been multi-generational? Don’t we need to relate to each other across all our differences including age. If we were working together, why wouldn’t you want to know about my happiness about my grandkids? I would want to know what makes you happy!

    I worked in higher education, and organizational and leadership development for most of my career. Working on providing services to young people at a university tends to keep you from realizing you are getting older. I didn’t really think of myself as old until I left my long time employment, then suddenly I realized others regarded me as this negative thing called old. It was a shock.

    Since then, I have worked in jobs in which I reported to younger people. A lot of that experience has been great because I enjoy seeing people bringing talents to bear and being engaged in developing their careers and expertise. Some aspects have been hard and those, in my estimation, have been due to some sort of uncertainty or wavering confidence on their part, but treated as if it was because of me somehow.

    So, its a long discussion of course, but I just want to say these things, truly with all due respect. I am not to blame for the times a millennial, or anyone else, feels uncertain or a lack of confidence. I am not scrutinizing you like your mother, father, or grandparents did. I can’t un-know what I know nor un-contribute my experience. I will be a kind, respectful, inclusive colleague that respects the perspectives and contributions of all my diverse colleagues. And that is what I will want in return.

    • Hi, Merle – I really appreciate you taking the time to share such a thoughtful response! Of course it’s only my personal experience reflected in the above – being at conferences where “millennials” is a buzzword, but does not come with an acknowledgment we’re in the room, for example. Ultimately I think we all have a lot to learn from each other and things are much smoother when we all remember that.

      Thanks again!

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