I had a twenty-something professional colleague give me an eye roll the other day that led me to a question of insidious intent, “Is it time to start thinking about hanging it up?”

It’s only been within the last few years that professionals who are my kids’ age started joining the workforce en masse. They are fearless, fun, and frustrating. Fearless in that they haven’t had a chance to experience any true failure yet, so they’re willing to try anything. Fun in that everything is new to them, and they have an enthusiasm that is refreshing and infectious. Frustrating in that while they’re smart, they’re not yet wise, and sometimes don’t understand the difference.

It’s been a challenge for me to adjust, as I am sure it has been for every 51-year-old that has come before me in the past 100 years. How do I treat these people? How do I swallow my own biases and pride enough to learn from them? How do I teach them without appearing condescending? How will I know when I should slide over to the passenger’s side and let one of them drive? How do I accept that they have a different approach to work? These are not rhetorical questions, people! There’s a comments section for a reason!

This is not a piece about Millennials as a group. Rather, it’s about one aging GenXr trying to find his place in the world as his recall and his knees begin to fail him. The short answer, for me at least, is to focus on how I have to work differently with them instead of how they’re different from me as a whole. Honestly, they’re different because they’re young, not because they’re digital natives. I was different when I was young too, much in the same way they are. A quick aside: thanks to my (considerably) older partners for putting up with me when I was an insufferable 27-year-old.

So, here are a few strategies I’m going to employ to be a better multi-generational colleague:

  • Listen more. This is never a bad thing in any situation.
  • Check my privilege. I’m not automatically wise just because I’m old(er).
  • Encourage debate. I have to stop telling people what to do (although, if I’m honest, I could’ve given myself that advice 30 years ago, too.)
  • Give actionable feedback. It’s ok to make a puppy sad if it benefits them in the end.
  • Eat less, move more, eat more fruits and vegetables.

For those of you in my age bracket, it’s more about us than it is about them. Stop complaining and start adjusting to the inevitable approach of your doom. For you Millennials, the next time a fifty-something calls a meme a “may-may”, cut them some slack.

John Touey

John Touey

John Touey is a Principal of Salveson Stetson Group Inc., and member of the management committee of the firm. He has over 20 years of experience providing executive search, human resources and management consulting services to a broad range of organizations and industries. At SSG, John manages the firm’s financial officer practice and has successfully placed senior level financial executives with several Fortune 500 companies, both in the Philadelphia region and beyond. Additionally, his functional search expertise extends into senior sales and marketing, operations, human resources, technology and general management roles. Read the full bio.

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