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7 ways to work more effectively with younger people

By Michael Crump | 13 December 2017

How can you aim to work more effectively with younger people? The baby boomers are retiring, making way for Millennials to take the reigns in many organisations. If you’re one of the older employee in your department, you have probably noticed some changes in working style. Younger workers are different, and you’ll find they have radically different ideas regarding start times, deadlines and everything in between.

To that end, here are a few simple ideas to consider when working with younger peers and how to plan and succeed more effectively with them.

#1: Share past mistakes

mistakes sticky note in book

Everyone (young and old) makes mistakes at work. There’s no reason younger employees should commit the same types of transgressions you’ve made already. Mistakes can actually be beneficial in the long run. Read 6 Ways to Learn from Failure

So put the ego on ice and share your professional mistakes. Yes, this will, aghast, dispense with any notion that you’re infallible. But it will also remind younger peers of your experience.

There’s no shame in making a mistake so keep your recount constructive and refrain from self-deprecation. Discuss the context of each decision, why you made the choice you did and what you learned as a result. History is a wonderful teacher, but she’ll only lead class when invited.

#2: Overwrite generational expectations

Those younger upstarts with their fresh business courses, have probably read up on how spending a maximum of four hours per day at their desks is the key to greater productivity. Or how work-from-home options are critical for employee retention. Or how having an office rabbit can de-stress the workplace (yeah right, who is going to clean up after it?) Thank you, Senor Internet.

We live in the eye of a pluralistic squall where legions of ideas whizz around regarding best practice. These differ between generations so it’s important you overwrite generational expectations with company ones.

That means not feeling disdain when you have to communicate specifics. Some younger workers may not have any idea how long they should take for lunch, or how fast they should work when undertaking a particular task. With all the opinions around, don’t let them guess. If a younger worker keeps making incorrect assumptions, provide a helpful bump in the right direction.

#3: Provide feedback, and more feedback

feedback concept

Feedback is an invaluable tool for helping young workers understand expectations. Provided you’re in a position to do so, provide an assessment on their job performance at an appropriate time.

After they’ve been given a chance to make changes, provide additional feedback on their efforts to improve. That means encouraging them when they implement positive changes, not just haranguing them with criticism.

If you’re not in an appropriate position to provide feedback and monitor how they respond, have a quiet word with their supervisor. The goal is not to discredit them but to build them up, so make sure you provide a fair-minded appraisal of their performance if speaking to a third-party.

#4: Be sensitive to development opportunities

Most young workers feel their way through their first few jobs. They’re trying to get a bead on what they’re good at, what they enjoy and the sort of activities that suit their personality. Let’s call it professional growing pains.

While it’s natural to get frustrated when working with someone who doesn’t know the role they’re best suited to, try to understand that this is all part of the learning.

If you’re in a management position or have control over an employee’s duties, open them up to a variety of tasks, roles and responsibilities. You never know – a role might stick and you could end up with a top gun in your company by the end of the month.

#5: Admit you're ageist. then deal with it!

ageist dictionary meaning

The New York Times suggests that most of us are ageist. It’s drummed into us from an early age. We’re told to ‘respect our elders’, to ‘look after’ our younger siblings. Age matters. It carries weight. So when confronted with an apparently large age gap at work be honest about the sort of assumptions that follow.

It’s only when you’re honest about these assumptions that they can be adequately challenged. That starts with asking yourself what sort of skills or attributes a younger worker might havethat you do not.

As you open yourself up to the inevitability that they have unique qualities and abilities, you’ll see them less as a liability and more as an individual and valued member of the company.

#6: Failure leads to recovery & recovery is everything

Don’t denounce young workers when they fail. Failure is part of personal development. By shaking your head at a young worker when they fall short you’re depriving them of the support they need to recover, and recovery – far more than first-time success – is everything. Check out How to Fail Like A Champ in 3 Steps

No one gets it right the first time unless they’re extremely lucky. When you encourage a coworker to quickly recover, it indicates faith in their potential - and that’s critical for any working relationship.

It goes without saying, of course, that if you’re a manager you should be conservative when granting younger employees responsibility. Let them iron out their issues in the practice nets before sending them out to the main arena.

#7: Judge less, engage more

birds eye view team meeting

Some people think it’s their responsibility to instantly place young workers under the heat lamp when they’re first introduced, judging them through a combination of dead-eye stares, interrogative public questioning and peacock posturing but could there be a better way? 

Rather than try to judge a young worker when you first meet them, relax and give them the benefit of the doubt. And remember, while you’re judging them, they’re judging you.

Finally, embrace young ideas

It might feel odd to work with peers who are the same age, or younger, than your children, but whether you like it or not, they represent the next generation of CEOs, treasurers and directors. While it can be uncomfortable at times, the more effort you commit, the easier it will be to see them as less of a number and more of a capable co-worker with exciting potential.

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