Just as more seasoned workers need to embrace the enthusiasm and new ideas of new recruits, younger employees also need to learn how to see things from the perspectives of their more seasoned colleagues. In some cases, for example, a workplace veteran might take a suggestion as a personal affront by the younger coworker: the older worker thinks that the younger one assumes that no one has thought of that idea before. This often happens when younger workers enthusiastically present their great solutions for problems without taking into consideration the older employees’ experience (and the fact that they may have also tried to tackle those problems themselves).
Should older workers be less sensitive? Of course. (In fact, it would be great if everyone stopped taking things so personally!) But look at the situation from their point of view: they (like everyone else) want to be valued for their experience and what they bring to the table.
Taking the approach of enlisting help from all team members (regardless of age) means welcoming all input—and finding value even in the negative stuff.
After all, knowing what’s been tried without success before may cut down on the time spent to find a winning solution on the next go-around. Encourage employees to treat a no as an opportunity to understand their colleagues’ objections and therefore make their pitch even stronger the next time.
If you’re the Millennial who’s pitching new ideas, don’t get offended when someone (of any age) tells you no. Instead, ask for more information about why something can’t be done. If an older employee responds, “We already tried it,” push for more information about past efforts. Treat the experience as an opportunity to learn about how the problem was approached in the past so that you don’t waste your time repeating a failed methodology and end up with the same result.
As you pitch ideas for improving operations, keep in mind that someone who’s currently in your company (or even your group) may be the person who implemented the practices you’re trying to change. Criticizing an idea while suggesting an alternative that you think is better may incense him or her to the point of being unable to listen to new ideas.
That actually happened to me when I was in my late 20s and had just joined the R&D marketing department at Rolls-Royce. At the time, the department used an antiquated Excel spreadsheet to track customers, and I proposed switching to the much better customer relationship management (CRM) system that I had used in another department—and I made some incredibly derogatory comments about the Excel-based system. It turned out that my boss was the one who had rolled out the Excel form. He was so irritated by my comments that he rejected my idea outright without even letting me get into the details of it, and there was tension on both sides: I felt rebuffed and slighted, while he felt that his toes had been stepped on.
Fortunately, my boss was an outstanding mentor:
Rather than deride my actions during that meeting, he taught me to leave personal judgments out of my professional presentations and instead to focus on how my new ideas can help the company achieve its goals.
That’s a lesson of value to employees and managers of all ages. Everyone needs to learn how to avoid emotional reactions during business discussions and keep the conversation centered on problem solving—an approach that will yield great results.
Managing a multigenerational workplace brings many challenges—and many rewards. Like it or not, the age-diverse workplace is here to stay, and managers must be able to strong positive relationships among employees of different generations. The ideas presented in this two-part series are just the tip of the iceberg, though. For more ideas, take a look at my latest book, Clash of the Generations: Managing the New Workplace Reality (Wiley 2017).