How to Be More Relatable to Younger Workers


young and older workers


A few days ago, I met two young women in a coffee shop. We bonded over the amazing coffee and our joint interest in digital media and its future. One of them said to me: “I’m really surprised how relatable you are.”

I was ecstatic.

Not only do I want to be relatable to millennials, I need to be. And, whether you realize it, you do, too.

In almost every workplace, millennials are the employees bringing new ideas to the table and asking the interesting questions. They are the workers who are being developed into future leaders. I don’t want to be the older worker who isn’t relevant enough to collaborate with a millennial on an innovative new project or participate on a pitch to a prospective millennial client. I am guessing you don’t either.

Today, the millennial generation, (roughly ages 18 to 34) is the single largest demographic in the American labor force. They are sitting in the cubicle next to you and they are determined to get ahead. If you want to succeed alongside them, you need young workers to view you as approachable, relatable and current. You want to be someone they want to collaborate with and share information.

Here’s a look at seven strategies to address generational differences and set yourself up for millennials to want you on their team:

1. Be future-oriented. Young workers don’t want to talk about how things used to be done and they definitely don’t want a lecture about why they should do things your way. They want to share their ideas and for you to get excited about them. Some of their ideas will improve efficiency so get on board.  Bottom line: Talk about tomorrow, not yesterday.

2. Project energy and enthusiasm. Millennials are an optimistic bunch and they thrive on collaboration. They don’t want to hear about your aches and pains or how tired you are,  and they don’t want to sense you’ve given up before you started. Millennials want to be around people who are role models for positivity, go-getters who are comfortable trying new approaches. You can still share your wisdom and experience but in a way that comes across as collaborative.  Bottom line: Show excitement and openness for new challenges.

3. Communicate their way. Have you ever seen a millennial text a co-worker a few desks away? Young workers view this kind of communication as no big deal. While older workers are busy holding meetings and emailing, our younger counterparts are group texting and instant communication. Their hyper-connected work style isn’t going to change and we need to adapt to it. Bottom line: Consider going online to talk to your millennial co-worker.

4. Show empathy. Gen Xers who have been through the recession and job loss tend to show little empathy for the younger generation’s problems such as high student debt or costly home ownership. Rather roll your eyes or generalize when a millennial complains about having it rough, realize the obstacles are a huge deal to them.  Millennials crave feedback so give it to them, but with empathy, by reinforcing what they are doing well.  Bottom line: Refrain from dismissing millennial problems or being overly critical.

5. Be social. You don’t have to go to lunch every day with your young co-workers but you should at least start a conversation. Ask what them what they did over the weekend,  or show an interest in their Instagram post. If you co-workers are into health and fitness, (many Millennials are) talk with them about your weekend workout routine.  Millennials value teamwork and if you are relatable, they want you on their team. Bottom line: Make a social connection with your younger co-workers.

6. Be flexible.  Millennials don’t mind putting in long hours but they want to set their own schedules.  In Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey,  22 percent of millennials said they would be willing to work more hours and 82 percent would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options. So, if you’re the fuddy duddy insisting young workers are at their desks from 9 to 6, give it up. Let young workers complete tasks in the way that works best for them. Giving a millennial worker this flexibility can boost productivity and allow companies with a global reach to span multiple time zones.  Bottom line: Let young workers complete tasks in the way that works best for them. 

7. Show an interest in technology. Instead of poking fun of your young co-worker’s addiction to his mobile phone or his constant need to upgrade his devices, show an interest, too. Use more technology in your presentations and be curious about the tech tools that are popular in your field. As Carmine P. Gibaldi of Harvard University notes on Business Insider:  “Don’t discuss what you don’t know, and be sure to be “somewhat” knowledgeable—maybe not equal to your younger colleagues, but not a dinosaur.” Bottom line: Up your tech knowledge and don’t highlight your gaps.

A lot of us Gen Xers and Boomers want to stay in the workforce a long time. I am one of them. We need to do our best to make sure all that we have to offer is recognized, that we are relatable to young co-workers, and that our age doesn’t hold us back.


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