Sterile Workspace

Workplace Generation Gap


Dear Tracey,

We would appreciate your perspective on a situation we have at work. We are a government office of five women. Four of us are over fifty-five and have been in our careers for many years. We’ve all had the good luck to work together for quite awhile and have shared plenty of experiences out of the office too. All of our kids are raised and out of the home and one of us will be retiring this summer.

The fifth member of our team was just hired a few weeks ago. She isn’t even thirty and the approach she’s taking to her job is rubbing all of us the wrong way. She is demanding and refuses to work overtime like the rest of us do. She texts or emails us questions when we are literally a few feet away! Recently, we all had to learn new software, something that was challenging for all of us. She seemed impatient that we weren’t getting it fast enough. Finally, she seems to bristle when we share our workplace experience.

Our boss doesn’t seem to think there are any problems and gives into whatever this young woman asks for, whether that’s a flex-time schedule or telecommuting from home if her baby is sick. We have never asked for such latitude.

We all feel resentful. (Personally, I’m years away from retiring so I have to figure out how to get along with this woman. She has more education than I do and I’m afraid she could end up my supervisor eventually.) How do we ever get along with her?

Concerned Co-workers

Dear Readers,

A couple of things could be happening here. It’s entirely possible that you find yourselves working with a spoiled, entitled, and demanding young woman – it happens.  But it’s equally possible that your wonderfully tight group of co-workers, who shares a long history on and off the job, are feeling invaded by someone who has been raised with very different expectations of the workplace. That happens too.

Sadly, friction between older and younger workers is constantly occurring in different workplaces throughout the nation. Yes, this can be incredibly frustrating but it can also be managed if everyone involved has a better understanding of how their co-workers are wired.

Your office sounds very divided by the good old generation gap. Your generation’s work ethic demands a ‘nose to the grindstone’ approach while her generation believes there’s more to life than work. She texts and emails — which is how she’s grown up — when you prefer face-to-face communication. All of you are “challenged” by new software and your computer savvy newbie takes it all in stride because it’s all she’s ever known. Your efforts to simply share experience may end up feeling like you doubt this young woman’s abilities. You give her necessary feedback and she’s of the generation raised on  a lot of praise.

Finally, she is also trying to find her place in a group of women who have known each other for years. No matter what the circumstances, this alone would be a huge interpersonal challenge. She may be very anxious about figuring out how she can possibly fit into your tight group. And, when people are anxious, their behavior is impacted.

I’m not making excuses for anyone’s behavior, just trying to point out some very understandable flash-points that may arise when two different generations work side-by-side. Look for opportunities to bring up some of these topics. Once you start to address differences, without focusing on who is right and who is wrong, change can begin. My hunch is that all of you could benefit from learning a few things from each other. (Times have changed. You may have “never asked for such latitude” but obviously, now you can. Who knows, you may find flex-time to be a wonderful approach to your work week!)

Please, try to see both sides of these issues so that you can create a more comfortable work environment for everyone.

Photo credit: Castillo Dominic

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