Robert Dilenschneider: Working with young people
Published 12:00 am, Thursday, October 1, 2015
America and business are poised for huge success. But one major determining factor, which will define the future, is how well young people and older workers can come together.
The traditional workplace had a rigid hierarchy in which top management was filled by the most experienced people; middle management positions were filled by the next generation and entry-level jobs went to the youngest generation.
Times, however, have changed and now there are younger people who may understand life better than their elders and who certainly know more about the evolving workplace.
Older employees may have more experience and a greater sense of loyalty; but, young people have an obvious advantage they didn’t have in past generations. They are more flexible and energetic and they are vastly more knowledgeable in one essential area — technology.
If you are over 50, sooner or later, you will find yourself having a professional discussion with someone who is 25 or 30 years younger than you, young enough to be your child. And yet you will be talking to that person as an equal.
The person could be your customer, your client or even your supervisor. They could even be interviewing you for a job.
Workers over age 50 need to know how to work with young people, particularly those 79 million Americans who are part of the Millennial Generation.
All across America, professional discussions are being held between men and women who are younger and older, and very often the older person looks at the younger — who well could be the age of one of their children — with a combination of curiosity, skepticism and disrespect.
Here are some specifics that will help you work closely with someone born after 1983:
Don’t patronize and don’t pander. Younger people see through that kind of condescension, and they don’t like it. At the same time, recognize that young people need encouragement — and probably more of it than you did when you were their age.
Don’t try to fit into their world. I don’t mean that you should avoid their world. On the contrary, I recommend seeking it out to see what makes them tick, but don’t pretend you belong there. You are not one of them. Think of yourself as a tourist in the country of the young.
Build their confidence. Share your knowledge and deal with their doubts. Many times, younger people are put into supervisory positions by top managers and urged to fly on their own. Unfortunately, they don’t have the depth of experience to do that. When you see a young person in that position, offer to help. First, make them understand that you are not in the running for their job. You are not a threat. Second, recognize that you have an opportunity to transfer your experience to the younger person that may ultimately help you.
Understand their motivation. Your goals, interests and turn-offs may not be theirs. They are hungry for ways to think about their own lives and challenges. Listen closely to them and understand their goals, aspirations and concerns. Then, support them.
Recognize their need for instant gratification. Young people want to do things fast and expect immediate results. You’ve learned the importance of patience and deliberation.
Listen. Consider the possibility that despite their inexperience, young people might actually have something to say. Listening has become a lost art. Learn to listen with an open mind and without judgment.
Ask questions. Deep in their hearts, young people recognize that they don’t know it all. The best way to help them is to ask a series of constructive questions about what they want to accomplish. Then, let them reach their own conclusions.
Keep up. Watch popular television shows. Find out what’s hot in music, theater and the best-seller list. Have a social media presence. Have a Twitter account, not to necessarily send out tweets, but to follow people who are popular with the younger generation.
Finally, accept the changing of the guard. Be willing to help younger people succeed, even when they are placed in positions above you. I know of a company that recently went through a period of upheaval. In the midst of it, a group of older people walked into the younger supervisor’s office and said they were there to help. He accepted their help. They accepted his authority. The company flourished.
Darien resident Robert Dilenschneider is founder and chairman of The Dilenschneider Group, a global strategic counseling and public relations firm with offices in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. He is author of the critically acclaimed “50 Plus! Critical Career Decisions for the Rest of Your Life” (Citadel Press: Kensington Publishing Corp. 2015)