• 01.15.13

How To…Bridge The Generation Gap

Age difference between two coworkers can turn innocuous office communication into outright dysfunction. But there are ways to ease–and even take advantage of–the tension.

How To…Bridge The Generation Gap
Illustrations by Robert Samuel Hanson
Illustrations by Robert Samuel Hanson


Stop living in the past
There will always be the temptation to reminisce about the glory days. Don’t do that. “It’s so easy to say, ‘We launched this payroll software three years ago, and the first thing that went wrong was da-da-da,'” says Lynne Lancaster, cofounder of the BridgeWorks consultancy. “Your twentysomething CEO is looking at you like, I was in grad school then and didn’t work here. I don’t really care.


Learn how to text
There are no rules anymore when it comes to communication, and therefore your personal rules no longer matter. “If they’re texting all the time, then fine, you better get on board with that,” says Lancaster.

Have fun
“When I started my career, being as serious as possible showed that I could do the job,” says Lancaster, who categorizes herself as a baby boomer. “With the millennial generation, it’s like, Yes, we can be serious about our work and still have a sense of humor.”


Walk in someone else’s shoes
Consider the nightly news: There was a time when sober Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America. Now we have jokester Brian Williams. “Our idea of an authority figure has changed,” says Lancaster. Understand that it might take a while for your more seasoned colleagues to loosen up.

Welcome face time
“Speaking as a boss who has millennials, I often want to see them because I like them,” Lancaster says. “They’re like, ‘Did I do anything wrong?’ And I’m like, ‘No! I just want to brainstorm.'” A face-to-face conversation is still an effective way to check in and ask for an opinion.

Leverage wisdom “The biggest fear that older workers have when a younger boss comes in is, Will I be valued for my experience and my chops that I’ve earned?” says Lancaster. Instead of getting defensive or dismissive, tap into that experience. Use your older employees as sounding boards, with questions like: Tell me, what am I not thinking of?

More “How To”:

NEXT: How to…Lead a Late-Afternoon Brainstorm