6 Tips for Working With Much Younger Colleagues

Advice from a former "seasoned newbie" who's now a valued mentor

By Estelle Erasmus, Next Avenue
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I restarted my career five years ago, after a decades-long hiatus. Previously, I’d been editor-in-chief of five national consumer publications with hundreds of bylines. But by the time I reentered the field (after having my now seven-year-old daughter in my forties), it was no longer recognizable. Suddenly working with much younger colleagues has been challenging, but I’ve figured out how to do it well. If you follow my advice, I think you will, too.

Although at first I felt like a dinosaur, today I’m a respected member of the publishing and blogging community, as well as a writing coach. My circuitous path from “seasoned newbie” to valued mentor and inspiring role model comprised several strategies. These days, I love working with young people, and I’d like to say I think they love working with me.

6 Tips to Work With Much Younger Colleagues

1. Play to your experience. You have decades to draw on, and your younger workers may find that valuable. When I was reinventing myself, I drew up a short list of what I thought I could offer Millennials. For example, I had worked on small-staffed print publications that were run much like the way digital staffs are. I also had contacts, deep knowledge of the publishing industry and access to professional associations like the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), where I’ve been working with younger staff in my role as chair for the upcoming ASJA Writer’s Conference.

My now calm demeanor (speaking as someone who was high strung when I was younger) helps soothe the nerves of people in their 20s and 30s.

My experience has also helped ease the mental state of some of my younger colleagues. Because I have worked with so many personality types in my long career, I don’t freak out with setbacks like production delays or sources gone dry. My now calm demeanor (speaking as someone who was very high strung when I was younger) helps soothe the nerves of people I work with in their 20s and 30s.

2. Elevate your social media profile. Younger workers — who spend more time on social media sites than older generations — feel that you can relate to their lives better if you’re on social media channels. Unfortunately, many workers in their 50s and 60s don’t know how to maximize their social media and don’t even try. That’s a mistake.

After making a conscious effort to be more visible on social media, I now have a widely followed blog, large profiles on most social media sites and a verified Twitter account with nearly 12,000 followers. Younger workers respect me for that.

I recommend that older workers get a Twitter and Snapchat account, tell their younger colleagues about this, retweet them and share their business-oriented posts on social media.

3. Surrender the phone. Here’s what Rajean Blomquist, digital content manager at EverywhereAgency.com, says about how she has accommodated to younger workers’ style: “I use abbreviated text and Giphy.com to share GIFs to express my feelings and reactions. I know I won’t be communicating by phone, it is nearly all online via Slack, email, and Skype, peppered with humor, and more profanity acceptable in the workforce than I have been used to, but I roll with it.”

I couldn’t agree more. Conversing through technology that Millennials prefer has been a big change for me, but a big help working with a younger generation.

4. Act as if. I used to try too hard to ingratiate myself with younger colleagues, but eventually I realized I didn’t have to expend that much energy. That realization gave me confidence, and Millennials tend to find confidence appealing.

Think about the jungle: The lion is the most powerful animal, but doesn’t exert energy until necessary. These days, I am calm when working and when I speak, I do so with authority while avoiding long-winded monologues (which younger workers hate).   

5. Ask for reverse mentoring. Many companies such as Target, Cisco, Colgate Palmolive, UnitedHealth Group and EY (Formerly Ernst & Young) find reverse mentoring effective. It’s an opportunity for younger workers to advise senior ones on the technology their generation prefers and how they like to engage. At EY, says reverse mentoring program manager Jeff Stier, topics can include technology, social media, change management and flexibility; the younger worker sets the agenda.

“Millennials respond really well if they feel you value, trust and empower them,” says Stier.

Modeling that approach, I have asked people in their 20s and 30s for help on things they’re experts at, like Snapchat or Google Analytics. Most have been glad to help. That makes sense to Stier. “Because they aren’t used to it, if you do get face time with them, it can hold a lot of value,” he says.

Laney Zukerman, author and relationship expert says: “By creating a mindset that we can learn from them, the relationship can be harmonious. In turn, they respect and admire the life lessons we offer.”

6. Do the time shift. Millennials entered the workforce during one of the most economically challenging times since the Great Depression, so they’ve typically adopted a “live now” mentality. To better relate to them, I read the book Time Shifting: Creating More Time to Enjoy Your Life, which says that by focusing on the “now,” we can take back control of our lives.

I’ve since learned how to stop dwelling on disappointments or the past, and I’m much happier. When stressed, I repeat this mantra from Time Shifting: “I’m fine just as I am right now, this moment in time.” This helped stabilize my breathing and my emotions. It makes me easier to work with and wouldn’t have happened without the inspiration of my younger colleagues. 

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Next Avenue is a website from PBS stations designed to inspire America’s booming 50+ generation to live the most meaningful and vibrant life possible. Follow us on Facebook  and on Twitter @NextAvenue.

This article is reprinted with permission. © 2017 NextAvenue.com. All Rights Reserved.

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