How to Get Older and Younger People
to Work Together
By Garrison Wynn
it: The generation gap these days is more like a canyon. People
under 30 and people over 40 do not see eye to eye! The over-40 crowd
wonders why the 25-year-old wants to be promoted to manager during
his first week of employment (and leave at 4:55 p.m. daily).
Meanwhile, the under-30 group believes a more seasoned coworker’s computer crashed simply because he is
What happened to make these generations so misunderstood? We know
historically that each generation is at odds with the next, but the
situation described above is an extreme version of that concept.
Terms here like “millennials” (which sounds like 1,000-year-old
infants) or Generations X and Y (seemingly indicating that algebra
was somehow involved) or “baby boomers” (being the group that bombs
babies?) are silly names. These labels encompass ages whose limits
are tough to define. For instance, if you’re 47, despite being
considered a baby boomer by many, you still belong to Generation X
by some interpretations. At what point did we decide that a baby is
not qualified to be part of a boom?
Research shows the real issues exist between the over-40 and
under-30 groups, with the people in the middle having combined
issues, traits, and opinions. It seems that each camp makes some
very strong points if we listen objectively; it’s just very
difficult to be objective when you are confused about the other
Let’s take a look at what we know and
can do something about; and let’s get honest about what we don’t
know, what we did, and what we can’t change.
What makes people under 30 the way they are?
The elementary school system changed how teachers taught and
rewarded for accomplishment. Teachers praised students along the way
to the goal, not just when a task was completed. They stopped to
celebrate along the way to success, creating motivation through
little rewards rather than a big reward at the end. The teachers
also promoted self-esteem by making sure every child knew he or she
was cared for regardless of accomplishments. The recurring message
delivered through this approach goes like this: “We love you; we
know you can do it; and here is a little prize at the halfway mark
to prove that to you.” More than just the educational process shapes
this under-30 group; they also grew up in the most affluent society
the world has ever known. We gave them a lot and told them they
could have anything they wanted in life. Now, the under-30s are here
to collect! The bottom line: We did it!
So what’s the good news about the under-30 set?
The majority of workers in this group are very capable and committed
to each other. No generation has ever had the loyalty to each other
that this group possesses. They work well in teams and achieve
remarkable results in record time if managed effectively. It’s true
that they want to do this wearing flip-flops, but the results we
have seen from the well-managed are impressive.
Each generation, it seems, is uniquely suited for the evolving world
it will inherit. If you watch the news these days, you hear the
latest reports on celebrity rehab alumni as the words scrolling
across the bottom of the screen give you the death toll in Iraq. Who
can make the most of a world like that? They can! The under-30s have
no problem with it; over informed and underdressed, they will
navigate the busy future with
What’s up with the over-40s? They seem kind of
The over-40 group was raised to
believe that working hard is proof of commitment (in reality, you
can bust your butt and secretly hope the company goes under so you
don’t have to quit). Also, they think working late proves that you
are working hard. They think that leaving before 5 p.m. means you
are not management material, while the under-30s believe that
working until 8 p.m. every night just means you lack time management
and life balance. The under-30s grew up in families where Mom or Dad
– or both – always worked late.
Additionally, most research shows the over-40 males believe they are
what they do for a living. In one interview, a 49-year-old salesman
was asked who he was when he was not working. He said, “Well,
mostly, I am always working. But when I’m not, I guess deep
down inside I’m a relationship builder who knows how to get people
to agree with me.” You mean like a salesman? He said, “Yeah,
How can we get more productivity from the under-30
Wishing people were like you is not a strategy. You have to motivate
the under-30s the way they grew up being motivated. They need to be
praised along the way to the goal. Celebrate the small victories on
the road to success and quit telling these workers about five-year
plans; their plan in five years is to have a new plan. This
plan mostly likely will not involve you or your company (no
offense). Give them short, tight deadlines and make sure low-tech
tools do not hinder your objectives. If their computer at home is
twice as fast as the one at work, they have a crummy job. And most
important, they want to do a good job and get a reward in the first
week. Make sure you have system that will allow that to happen. And
finally, if thinking about these tips is causing you to lose the
will to live, remember that our society created these people so now
we have to make sure they can get the job done.
How can we get the over-40s to see we can do the
job much more effectively if they would let us do it a little bit
Let them know you understand the old way first. If
you have an innovative new system and you fail their little quiz on
the old one, you’re toast. Also, make sure you seek their counsel.
If you are 27 and your coworker is 41, you need to make sure he
knows that you know that his experience is an asset to your
decision-making process. A 27 year old department head with 35
direct reports who were all in their 30s and 40s did not heed this
advice personally in those days, so his nickname was “Punk-boy
manager.” It’s hard to wield authority with that label floating
around the office.
What the over-40 group really wants from you is gratitude and
respect. If you can fake that, you’ve got it
What do we need to do to work more effectively with
each other as a team?
Get over ourselves! People who grow up at different points in
history have a unique experience and outlook toward life. It’s
always been that way and will mostly likely continue. And though
these differences seem a bit greater than some in the past, they are
in effect natural. We have already established in the past 30 years
that dealing with diversity and understanding each other’s
differences is critical to communication and success. So, letting
people be who they are and dealing with it is not new. It’s easy to
say, “We were all young once” – but the truth is we were not all
young under the same circumstances.
One day the under-30 group will grow up and will face a new crop of
young people. They will be saying things like “What do you mean we
can’t come to work naked? It’s natural. And besides, global warming
has made clothing irrelevant!”
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