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The Definitive Guide to Working with Non-Millennials

Written By Page Jensen-Slattengren | Sep 13, 2016

Millennials have gained a certain, let’s call it notoriety, in the media the past few years. Coveted and reviled at the same time; publications ranging from prestigious (Forbes and Harvard Business Review) to ridiculous (Wikihow) have published lengthy articles, videos and opinion pieces on how to attract us, manage us, work with us, and whip us into shape in order to enter a workforce dominated by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

For every piece raising us up as creative geniuses and change makers, there are two more labeling us as selfish, spoiled, tech-dependent and generally impossible to work with.

As a generation, our eyes, ears and data are sought after by companies large and small, yet these same companies are often loathe to hire us. Generalizations have spilled right out of the think pieces and into our work environments. Stirring generational conflict may be an age old tactic used to sell magazines, but these attitudes are pervasive, and affect our ability to make a living and get along with our coworkers.

So how do we get by? Without a profusion of how-to articles, videos and seminars, how are we supposed to acclimate to a hostile environment dominated by the ever-so-inflexible and misoneist Non-Millennials?

In lieu of expert research, I decided to do a little bit of my own fieldwork, and buddied up with two Non-Millennials in my workplace: Phil and Sam. Both are over 40 and have a penchant for dad jokes, Millennial jokes and offering advice. With their help, I’ve created the definitive guide to working with Non-Millennials:

(Note: character names have been changed to protect their identity, and my job.)

They genuinely think their Millennial jokes are funny

Non-Millennials think it’s hilarious to joke about your age, inexperience or anything they deem as Millennial-y (other examples include new technology, strange fashion trends, or trendy restaurants). Think of it as hazing; by the generation that grew up with Dazed and Confused instead of Old School.

Phil and Sam’s favorite game is to constantly reference outdated celebrities and TV shows, then grill me to see if I can keep up with the references (Cher: check, Jim Croce: check, Peter Sellers: …not so much).

The best tactic to deal with this? Utter avoidance. Instead of giving in and retaliating with old people jokes, or excessively rolling your eyes, put on headphones and crank that new Frank Ocean album. Rest assured, the jokes will get old and they will move on. Or more likely: a new, younger target will come along.

It’s cliché, but they really don’t know shit about technology

It started as a joke, Phil calling me over to help him with Google Sheets, then iMovie, then his email. While I pride myself on my technical prowess, I was also greatly confused why Phil didn’t just Google…or use a YouTube video like everyone else. Phil is a smart guy, it wasn’t that he didn’t get it; I just had to realize that one of the greatest differences between their generation and ours is learning style.

Millennials learn technology by watching, doing, and trying. Non-Millennials initially learned about technology from clunky textbooks followed by limited hands-on practice. So it’s no wonder that any new tech that doesn’t come with extensive instructions is often deemed as “too hard” or “ridiculous.”

Be patient, be kind and be ready to show them, time and time again, how simple it is to add a friend on Snapchat or write a formula in Sheets.

Hard work means something different to them

The biggest hurdle for me to get over in building my Non-Millennial friendship capacity was that they constantly told tales of how hard everyone used to work. They would brag about working 17 hour days on month-long shoots in the “good old days.” New employees wouldn’t leave the office until their boss did, and getting bullied or tormented throughout your 20’s was to be expected.

Conversely, advancements in technology, tools and methodologies mean we can now wrap that same shoot in a week and leave plenty of time for sleep.

It began to dawn on me that while, traditionally, Non-Millennials measured hard work in hours, my generation measured it much differently. We try to live by the adage “work smarter, not harder,” and have deemed long hours and production schedules as inefficient, impractical and a misleading indicator of hard work.

It’s not that they can’t multitask…they just don’t want to

I thought I was the queen of multitasking; I took so much pride in juggling tasks that it was listed on my resumé right between ProTools and pen and paper. Any project I took on involved an open Spotify tab, several Slack channels, iMessage, multiple windows with a combination of research and Reddit, and of course the actual task.

Sharing a desk with Phil and Sam, one thing that immediately stood out was their open lack of multi-tasking. Browsers were shut, cell phones turned upside down, Slack was set to silent.

And guess what? It really, truly works. They were able to get their work done in half the time I was, leaving them better prepared for the next project and honestly producing more thorough work.

While I still haven’t entirely cut the cords, I am taking after them and quieting my Slack, turning my phone upside down, and sitting down to work.

Face to face communication is a big deal

With the popularity of text messaging and tools like Slack, for Millennials, even emails have started to look old fashioned. We strive to get every bit of communication across in 140 characters or less. Yet I noticed my Non-Millennials coworkers avoiding these expedient tools at all costs.

If I Slacked them, they would inevitably come over and talk to me. They called clients on the phone when they had a question instead of waiting for an emailed reply. To them, a verbal “thank you” seemed to mean much more than an emailed one.

Ultimately, they’re right–communicating that way is much nicer. While I appreciate the efficiency of digital text, watching a human being explain something or show recognition goes A LOT farther, and I’m now much more aware of how calling my clients, or walking over to my coworker’s desk, can change their day for the better.

There may always be a rift between the generations. Whether you blame it on helicopter parents, technology or an inflated sense of entitlement, our generation was raised differently, taught differently, and had access to very different tools than the Non-Millennials.

But at the end of the day, we’re all human beings who want to do a good job, make friends and if we’re lucky, work on projects we’re passionate about.

Phil and Sam are two of my best friends at work. I continue to teach them about new music and technology, and they continue to give me excellent advice about office conflict and time management.

Lest you forget: in a few short years Generation Z will flood the workforce and make ME look old hat. Now THAT is scary.

As Phil and Sam like to say, “Remember, someday you’ll be old too.” And as I like to retort, “Yeah, but I’ll never be older than you.”

Page Jensen-Slattengren is a copywriter and project manager for Austin based advertising agency, Emergent Order. When she’s not writing sardonic content about her middle-aged friends, you can find her penning feminist literature and teaching people how to say her last name.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.