Can't we all just get along? Bridging the generation gap at work

What a week for aging. According to one study, people age 65 and older will outnumber people age 15 and younger worldwide by the year 2030. This is referred to as a "population plague."

Elderly Crossing.flickrCC.EthanPrater
"Who you callin' a plague?"

In more bad news for younger older people, Lydia DePillis, writing for The Washington Post, had an article titled "Baby boomers are taking on ageism -- and losing." From what I could tell, her article revolved around one guy, Dale Kleber, a 60-year-old "Chief Legal Officer/Chief Executive Officer/Senior Executive" who quit a CEO position without having another job lined up . . . while he had two kids in private college and didn't have enough money saved for a "comfortable" retirement.

As I would tell my kids, "Don't ever do that!!!!!"

Not surprisingly, Mr. Kleber reportedly had a hard time finding another "Chief Legal Officer/Chief Executive Officer/Senior Executive" job. So he applied for a relatively mundane job with a company seeking a lawyer with seven years' experience. When he didn't get the job, he sued the employer. (Or maybe he just filed an EEOC charge. It's hard to tell from the article.) But, anyway, yeah, I can't imagine why this employer would reject for this particular job an applicant who has at least 32 years'  legal experience and, since 1988, has been a Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel, a Principal and General Counsel, a President, and a CEO.

I am sure it was just his age. The fact that he would, in all likelihood, be miserable and bored to death, and be bossing around his bosses all the time, had nothing to do with it.

I have no doubt that age discrimination exists. But I'm more simpatico with the Baby Boomers in this article from last year -- from  Rob Walker, "the Workologist" of The New York Times -- about successful older employees and how they continue to thrive in the workplace.

"Who you callin' an entitled special snowflake?"

In the hope of bringing peace and harmony to Millennials and Baby Boomers, here are some tips for each group. (Gen X and Gen Y, you can stand in the middle and keep them from each other's throats.)


Don't assume that someone is a technological idiot just because they're past a certain age. Most Boomers are perfectly adept at using the technology that they need to perform, and even excel, at their jobs. The fact that they may not be able to remember the difference between Snapchat, Instagram, and Spotify, and don't know what a Pokemon is, much less a Pokemon Go, may cause you to roll your eyes, but it's not a big deal because their work probably doesn't require those time-wasters. Can they log on to a computer and use Office and email? Can they use a mobile device? If so, they are probably as "technological" as they need to be for most jobs. (The "Workologist" article also recommends at least a basic level of familiarity with LinkedIn and Twitter, and I don't disagree.)

Pikachu is the cutest of the Pokemon. Now you know.

Don't assume that a technological idiot is an idiot. Even if someone is not great with tech, that doesn't mean he's stupid. It just means he's not great with tech. He may nonetheless be brilliant, industrious, motivated, and helpful. Even if he is still using a Dictaphone.

Respect the Boomers' life and career experience. They've been working a lot longer than you have. Over the years, some of them may have acquired wisdom, humility, judgment, tact, and charity -- all things that you'll have someday, too, in time, after you've made enough mistakes. They also may have been around long enough to have very helpful "institutional" knowledge. Appreciate it. And use it.

Old Lady on Mac.flickrCC.KimberlyB
"Look! She's using a Mac! Aww!"

Try to avoid being all "that's so cute!" when a Boomer does the least little thing "modern." Boomers can do all kinds of things. They read on iPads or Kindles. They post pictures of their grandchildren on Facebook. They subscribe to Amazon Prime. Don't be condescending.

If all else fails, remember this: that older co-worker could be your mom or dad. So be nice.


Don't be so quick to assume it's your age. Of course age discrimination exists. But before you jump to the conclusion that discrimination is the reason you aren't going anywhere, take an honest look at yourself. Is it your age . . . or is it the fact that you are a jerk, or exercise poor judgment, or have failed to keep your skills current, or (like Mr. Kleber, I suspect) are simply suited for very high-level positions that may not be easy to find?

"Older workers are fine. It's you we can't stand."

Be supportive of your younger co-workers. In a multi-generational workplace, you have a wonderful opportunity to be a mentor to younger co-workers. (See my Millennial tip on "life and career experience," above.) Are you constantly criticizing their lack of experience, or busting on their work ethic? (See my Boomer tip on "don't be so quick to assume it's your age.") You were young once, too, ya know.

Don't be a rebel.  As one of the people interviewed in the "Workologist" article noted, if your boss is young, deal with it and respect her authority. Don't talk behind her back about how much better things would be if you ran the show. (On the other hand, if you just want to ride a Harley to work, it's probably ok to be that kind of rebel.)

Old Hippy.flickrCC.StevenDepolo
Would you discriminate against this guy? I sure wouldn't!

Go light on the "advice" unless you're asked. This was another good suggestion from the "Workologist" article. You may think you know the best way to do everything. Even assuming solely  for the sake of argument that you do, nobody likes a busybody. Save the unsolicited advice for times when it's truly needed. Otherwise, try to keep your advice to yourself unless someone asks for your opinion. But do be generally available and willing to help.

If all else fails, remember this: that young co-worker could be your kid. So be nice.

Image Credits: From flickr, Creative Commons license. Road sign (U.K.) by Ethan Prater; millennials by Erin Nekervis; Pikachu by Zac Zellers; old woman on Mac by Kimberly B.; young woman by Pascal Maramis; hippie senior by Steven Depolo.

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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