At age 42, Shona Sabnis is one of the "older" workers in the New York office of public-relations firm Edelman. Though she prides herself on being able to get along with most people, she is sometimes puzzled by the actions of her 20-something co-workers who, in turn, don't understand why the senior vice president of public affairs likes to distribute physical newspaper clippings.
While dealing with a situation at the office, Ms. Sabnis was told by a junior co-worker that she should be handling her client differently. It wasn't phrased as a suggestion, which surprised her since she knew the co-worker wasn't that familiar with the account.
She later enlisted a 26-year-old co-worker to help her to get a better sense of where her young co-workers are coming from. He told her about the motivations of individual co-workers and what their expectations were. "I found that I was projecting my reality when I was that age on them and their reality seems very different," says Ms. Sabnis. "I don't always assume anymore that I know what they want. Now I ask them if I need to know." Ms. Sabnis says she feels that she is now able to deal with young co-workers with more understanding.
With as many as four generations bumping elbows in the same office, a lack of understanding and empathy between groups can generate serious workplace tension that can alienate co-workers. That is why experts say that getting into a young mind-set through mentorships and relationship building can help older workers better identify with young co-workers and—inevitably—younger bosses. Thinking young can also offer valuable insight into emerging millennial workplace and customer trends that can help to extend careers. Especially since millennials—people born between 1981 and the early 2000s—will make up 36% of the American workforce by next year, estimates the Business and Professional Women's Foundation.
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