4.30.2012

How to Get Along With Older Coworkers and How It Helps You

Happy Monday! Today I want to talk about the place where I spend over 50 hours a week and my home away from home - my workplace. I'm the youngest person that works for the entire division and it wasn't easy getting recognition and trust, especially when people constantly ask me where I go to school and am I just interning here or working part-time.

Although I have only been at my current job for 2 years, I have been working with older coworkers since I was a freshman in college. I get along really well with them, and I have made a lot of good friends who I still keep in touch with! In contrast, I have worked in a company run by young managers and employees, and I much prefer working with a large range of ages. It's nice to cast a wide net of friendships, and I'm finding this especially helpful in terms of networking and getting ahead. It's nice to have your friends who are around the same age bracket, but there are also advantages to having older counterparts to give you advice from a different viewpoint and to help your career path. 
Avoid this ^^ via
For the purposes of this post, when I say "older coworkers," I am referring to Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers. In addition, these are tips that have helped me at the Fortune 500 company where I work at, and I am NOT the boss. Basically, these may not apply to every situation out there... so don't chastise me!

Here are some ways that I've been successful at getting along with older coworkers:

1. Show Respect
I think this is true for working with anyone, but for our older counterparts, respect is something that should be given at all times. Open doors for people, say hello in the mornings, ask how their weekend was, and just show that you are interested in getting to know them. You're not just there to work, but show that you are interested in forming a relationship with them.

2. Know Your Place
The one thing that may scare my older coworkers is the fact that I might replace them. Some of them don't have fancy college degrees but they automatically think that the new generation is going to take their jobs. If you're the youngest one in the company/department, try not to make it known that you want your boss's job. Whether you are at the bottom or mid-level management, know your role and do your very best at it.

3. Act Mature
There are some older people that like to joke around, but their way of joking is way different than those pranks I used to play on people in college. Sometimes the jokes they make are corny, so get used to sharing comics and funky chain emails and articles. Be serious when appropriate but also know when you should laugh and joke around. 

4. Listen
Older people tend to watch your every move. They know how to read people and they often make judgments of people quickly. I've learned to listen to my older coworkers, because they hate to be interrupted but also listen to what they are saying and why they are sharing information with you. Learn to listen to what they are trying to say but listen proactively and show them that you were listening by bringing up what they have said before in a different conversation.

5. Ask Questions
Most of the time, my older coworkers have been in their positions for a long time. They've been doing what they've been doing for years. This means that everything is second nature to them, so they may not remember what you are going through when you are trying to learn the company process. Instead of being angry at them for not training you properly or telling you everything you needed to know, probe them by asking tons of questions. It gets everyone's mind going and it also benefits you to pick their brains.

6. Seek Advice
Just like #5, it's great to ask questions about work related projects, but I've found that seeking advice from my older coworkers works great for breaking the ice. As a young person, I'm still navigating my way through life. They have been through a lot of life experiences already, and sharing your life stories with them is a great way to learn more about them and gain new knowledge. I get a lot of great advice from my older coworkers that my friends would never be able to tell me.

7. Be Willing to Learn
There's nothing worse than seeing a younger person join the company and then proceed to act like they know everything. Just because you have a degree doesn't mean you know everything about that topic. I've learned that there are a ton of different things to learn in every company. Each company has its own procedures, policies, and rules to follow and guess what, they are all different. Older coworkers like us young people when we are open to learning new things.

8. Stop Complaining
I'll admit it. I'm a a huge complainer! I complain a lot and I think my friends complain a heck of a lot more than me. I do know that I get annoyed whenever I hear someone complaining a lot. If you're the youngest one there and you're complaining, you get a lot of flack for it rather than an older person complaining. I'm not sure why a young person gets coined as "lazy" for complaining and an older person gets promoted after complaining - but if you're complaining too much, just know that people are noticing it.

9. Help Them
I have this one coworker who has no skills in Excel or anything computer/phone related. He needs help on almost everything, even though he is an attorney. He asks me for a dictionary (why doesn't he just use dictionary.com?) and he writes everything down. I help him all the time because in doing this, I am building a relationship with him and when I need a favor from him, he will return the favor without thinking twice about it.

10. Relate to Them
Older coworkers are no different than us. It was intimidating for me at first, but find topics that you can both talk about. Even though you don't have kids or grandchildren, share photos of your life - your pets, parents, siblings, vacations, etc. They are just as interested to hear about what crazy adventures you have been on, but in return, take interest in whatever they want to talk about. Ask them about their lives and what they do after work.

It's tough and it sucks to have to prove yourself, especially if you are the youngest person in your company. However, to gain respect and trust, you have to put some work into developing these relationships with your older coworkers. I have gained friendships and I have also used these relationships to my advantage in terms of networking, resume help, other employment opportunities, letters of recommendation, and your life will generally be a lot better at work if you make it work for you.

Do you have any other tips on how you get along with older coworkers?

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