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Tips on how to work harmoniously with non-generation Y colleagues in the workplace. Explains who generation Y is and what our generalizations are and how to combat this.

I have been meaning to write this post for a long time, so I’m so happy to finally share my thoughts with you.  As you know, the Generation Y are those born somewhere after 1982 (according to wikipedia) and the early 90’s.  We are an often talked about bunch, probably because we are the child by-product of the baby boomer generation.

Generation Y Generalizations

Other people in the workplace view Generation Y as the super speedy multi-tasking generation. We are good with technology, type at warp speeds, and are often seen multi-tasking. In fact, at my workplace, one of my baby boomer colleagues calls me “Matrix” because she thinks I type so fast.

Generation Y is often labeled as “lazy” too, because we give off the impression that we want to get paid top dollar while at the same time doing as little work as possible. We want to rise in the work place as fast as possible. We are skipping from job to job to job, often lasting at a workplace for only abut 1-2 years before we move up the ranks to another job. This is in contrast to the baby boomer generation, where they moved their way up slowly after a time span of 20+ years to get where they are at now.

Generation Y also are an entrepreneurial bunch.  I think this stems from wanting to live a life where we aren’t in the rat race for 30+ years.  Generation Y are the geniuses behind many start up internet companies, let alone start up companies in general.  We tend to live and breathe instant gratification, which is probably why we aren’t saving any money.

The Problem

Because Generation Y employees are seen as lazy and wanting to get everything for nothing, I think there can be a lot of resentment from the other generations (baby boomers, generation X to name a few) towards us.  They have worked hard for YEARS to get where they are at now, and here we are, jumping in with unbridled enthusiasm and doing their job better than them.  I think Generation Y has a lot going for us- we are ambitious, determined, great at multi-tasking.  However, we have short attention spans (thanks to being used to doing homework with the television and music on simultaneously) and get bored easily.  We need to change the way other people in the workplace view us, show them that they are pigeonholing us into a category unfairly.

So, now that we know what Generaion Y is like, this begs the question- how do we co-exist harmoniously in our workplace?

How to Co-Exist Harmoniously with your Non-Generation Y Colleagues

Don’t be afraid to show appreciation

I admit that sometimes, I feel that I “know more” even though I don’t, and I often have a difficult time accepting criticism.  I’m not sure if this is a Generation Y thing (I think it seems to be) or if this is my own problem.  I think if Generation Y were to handle criticism better, we would all get along much more harmoniously in the workplace.

Next time a colleague gives you feedback, accept it and thank them for pointing it out to you.  Show appreciation for their wisdom and their many years of experience before you.  Show humility.  This goes a long way.

Be Eager

Eagerness never would be taken the wrong way in the workplace.  It’s a positive attribute.  Being eager with a member of the opposite sex in terms of relationships, on the other hand, is a whole different story.

Arrive early or at least be punctual.  Stay later if you have work to catch up on.  It shows that you care about your work and can give a positive image to your colleagues.  At least do this for the first 6 months at your new job, and people will appreciate your dedication to the company and your determination to work hard.

Leave the Social Media stuff for After Work

I know that we live, breath, eat, sleep social media what with twitter, facebook, email and our smart phones, but when you’re at work and people are walking by your cubicle looking at your screen, you don’t want to give the impression that you’re doing this all the time.  I know it’s hard, but if you want to succeed in the workplace and have people respect you, you have to respect your workplace and ignore all the hyperconnectivity until after work… if that can’t be done, at least hide somewhere where people can’t see you and check your facebook, twitter, and email!

Show Respect to your Elders

I think this is very important.  Appreciate and value our elders (basically anyone older than us!) for what they have done for the company before we arrived.  Show that you admire their thoughts, feelings, and work ethic.  One of the most important things is to listen.  I know that Generation Y has the tendency to voice their opinions easily and openly, though we must show mutual respect and listen to others viewpoints as well.

I hope these ideas can help you live a positive, fulfilling work-life.  We do spend the majority of our time at work, so might as well attempt to make it satisfying and rewarding!

Readers, do you have any suggestions on what else might work for Generation Y?  It would be interesting to get both a Generation Y (or even Millenial!) perspective and non-Generation Y perspective (Gen X, baby boomers).

Article comments

Hunter says:

I’m a Gen X and the Gen Y’s I’ve managed and worked with have been hardworking and really ambitious. What I think is now tricky in the workplace is their compatibility – in work style to older generations. They are impatient, want stuff now, and keen to prove to the GM that they are the best. They aren’t afraid to make meetings, get FaceTime with a director, and generally raise their profile whenever they can. This can cause resentment from older employees, because the thing is that Gen don’t care!!!they’ll do whatever it takes to get ahead and if that means circumnavigating tiers of hierarchy then they will. On one hand I admire this, but in the other this is a problem now. We were taught to respect anyone with more experience than us. Fullstop! So I think what’s happening is a bit of a phenomena. Many of my age group are being threatened by gen y because gen y just go and get whatever it is they want !!! Problem is from my perspective is they can trample on others to get there.

Kyle says:

That’s an interesting insight Hunter. The “experts” claim that the next generation (beginning in 2002 or so) will be even more in the direction you outlined. Maybe it stems from us having compete for the jobs we already have to such a high degree?

Sapphyreopal5 says:

I disagree that all Gen Yers have been coddled by their (mostly) boomer parents. Yeah a lot of them have been but I’ve also witnessed and heard of several get screwed over by their parents. A lot of kids in college (and getting out of) are struggling to find jobs that are related to their degree and get stuck taking jobs under their value. Also, many of them come out with a sh*tload of debt from their loans that they’ll be stuck paying back for several years (hmmm, if Gen Yers are so financially coddled, why are many of them getting student loans or relying on scholarship money to get through school instead of their parents paying for it?) I’m a Gen Yer myself (21 years of age) but my parents are older Gen Xers.

Another thing I don’t understand is if Gen Yers are so lazy, why are they collectively ambitious and are more inclined to actually pursue their dreams? If anything, I think Gen Yers are more creative and innovative and I guess that can be seen as lazy, as they want to find faster more efficient ways of doing things.

As far as the criticism and “pointing things out” part goes, it’s not always so much what is being said but how it’s being said. Who likes hearing criticism, especially if it’s more destructive than constructive? Believe it or not, it is a part of human nature to see criticism as threatening, as it can be seen as a threat to one’s social status within a group (can mean losing that social connection or a downgrade in status within a group).

I would say that the generation more prone to being bitter towards us Gen Yers are the boomers. In my opinion, part of it is because they don’t like competing with their kids for jobs and also bc they are more set in their ways and of course several other reasons I won’t ramble on about right now lol. If anything, I’ve noticed that of all inter-generational interactions and relationships, it seems like Gen X and Gen Y get along the best based on my personal experiences at work, in class, casual settings (like parties), and even from I’ve read in online forums/blogs.

Teacher Man says:

Hey Saph, thanks for stopping by.

I think you hit on some interesting Gen Y sound bites. Hey, you don’t have to preach to me that we got it tough, I agree with you. Student debt sucks, but at the same time, no one is going to say that we have the work ethics of our grandparents – we don’t! I don’t think we are more creative or innovative as a group either. It think Gen Y had some great thinkers, as did every generation. How can you compare they guys that invented the computer to the ones that took it to the next level?

Your very response to the idea of criticism actually says a lot about Gen Y. Only we could be worried about our social station in life when we are being shown how to improve at our job. Our parents would have been worried about not meeting expectations first, using it as motivation second, and then maybe everything else third.

I guess we can sit here and exchange anecdotal stories all day because I have worked in many different environments, and on average, I’ll take the baby boomer crew (or even better – their parents) every time.

Sapphyreopal5 says:

I was actually just venting out some of my frustrations and reading articles like this actually helps break down some of the stupid stereotypes unfairly placed upon us. I’m just so sick of hearing all this crap about how all Gen Yers are these coddled, spoiled brats who care about no one but themselves! It’s just not true about all of us Gen Yers. I must agree however that we do not have the work ethics our grandparents had… not even close! However, I don’t think that our work ethic collectively speaking is in the sh*thole, like a lot of people claim (a lot of Gen Yers are still too young and undisciplined to appreciate having a job in the first place).

And of course not all Gen Yers are innovators or whatever, but I certainly think a good deal of them have a bit of a creative streak. Then again many of us have yet to show the world our true potential, as many of us are still rather young.

Teacher Man says:

I hear you Saph, you can never make broad generalizations without grossly misrepresenting some people right? Let’s be honest, there were extremely lazy people back in our grandparents’ day, and there are a solid percentage of damn hard-working Gen Y’ers. I really like your point about us being too young to really deserve a grade one way or another on work ethics and potential!

Daniel says:

Regarding criticism…that is a bit sticky. Some managers never praise, it has nothing to do with you or your work. Some companies are not into praise. You might want to ask around to see what the consensus is at work and figure out if you just work in a “non-praising” environment.

Remember your elders were not sending email at work or checking their phones when they were your age. Thus, they see no need for you do to it. If you want to understand age gaps better, ask your manager what his/her first job was, what she was paid, what hours she worked…you might learn a lot.

young says:

@Daniel- Good point, Daniel. That’s a great idea- to ask your manager- I think that shows a sense of respect for what they did when they were younger.

As a fellow Gen Yer, I’m always really interested in articles like this. There are some great companies who are managing to successfully bridge gaps between Gen Yers and Baby Boomers (Time Warner runs a reverse mentoring scheme, where the recent grads teach the directors about social media), which is a great way of tackling potential generation divides.

I’d add that Gen Yers are less money-driven in comparison to Gen X, which can be tricky for some older managers to get their heads round. We’re also (according to studies) more tolerant of different ethnic minorities than older counterparts, which in my book is great for society and business!

101 Centavos says:

Good career perspective, Y&T. Early is for go and late is for show… We get a number of young interns, and I’ve always been favorably impressed. I don’t think the term “lazy” applies, but it’s only my own personal experience.

young says:

@101 Centavos- Good to hear that the different generations are coexisting well at your workplace! 🙂

Generation Y can’t even get their own name and tagged along with Gen X. 🙂
I haven’t worked with too many gen Y, but I think they’ll mature and be more dependable soon. Gen X was pretty flaky too, but we are better now.

young says:

@retirebyforty- Haha, good to hear to Gen X and Gen Y both have their issues and perhaps this is all just a generational/ coming of age thing. I think Gen X has the flakiness of Gen Y except Gen Y is kinda cooler 😉

FinEngr says:

No single generation can be blamed entirely for their “flaws” since each preceding generation plays a large role in shaping those younger than them.

Of course we feel entitled, our parents raised us on the premise that we could be, or get, whatever we wanted so long as we worked for it.

I’m sure the Baby Boomers looked like an over-indulging lot compared to their Depression era forefathers. 😉

young says:

@FinEngr- So true 😉 We should ask Depression era forefathers what their thoughts are of the Baby Boomers 😉 As I get older I am finding that more and more. We all become nostalgic of the “better times” and of how we used to work hard, and gas wasn’t so expensive, etc. etc. I guess it could be just a part of growing older!

Nice post, and fairly accurate. OK, so I’m old, I’m “30-something” for a few more years and I can definitely identify with what you said in your post.

Gen “Why” is keen, wants to know it all no doubt, but the biggest problem I see with this generation is; they should not confuse access to information (read in, use of internet, other) with wisdom. These aren’t the same folks.

Observe, learn, stay quiet once in a while and listen to others. Every generation could use a litte more of that. 😉

young says:

@My Own Advisor- Great advice! I think every person could use a little more of that advice you just dispensed 😉 Observing and being open to learning is such a integral part of being a good individual, and its something we often don’t do enough of!

Haha as a teacher, I can honestly say with some authority that if you guys think Generation Y is bad (yes I agree, a larger percentage are lazy, selfish, and just basically have no work ethic) just wait until you see what is coming up the food chain. You think we like social networking and cell phones, the teens of today honestly live with them as a physical part of their being. Many can text as fast as I type (and I’m pretty decent, although I would have a hard time transcribing a conversation in real time). We are moving further and further away from “the greatest generation.”

young says:

@T.M.- Wow… texting as fast as typing?? Unfathomable! Actually I’m pretty terrible at texting, especially with the &%)#@* autocorrect! I’ve seen what is coming down the pipe and I have to admit I’m not liking what I”m seeing so far, but that’s just me 🙂 I could never be a high school teacher because of this (I would probably get so annoyed with their self absorbed behaviour) and have the utmost respect for you!

Country Girl says:

Great post. How did you know we’re dealing with these issues at the office? 😉

My biggest beefs with my fellow generation y coworkers are the lack of attention to details (edit people, geez…), belly aching like spoiled brats and no respect for what I assume are general workplace ‘rules’ (showing up on time, keeping the time spent on personal calls/texts to a minimum etc.,). Sometimes it’s enough to make your teeth grind together. I’m sick of my generation being coddled, I think it’s high time we get told to ‘shape up or ship out’.

young says:

@Country Girl- I get quite preturbed when I see other people on facebook/ email at the office when they should be working (or at least when I am working my butt off already). I see some of my fellow Gen Y’ers whining at work too and it makes me cringe. Sometimes I catch myself doing it too and that makes me cringe too! 🙂

Great post that is pretty spot on!

I’m not sure about the social media thing though. I’m not addicted at all to Facebook and stuff like that; for me, email and chat is still where it’s at. Maybe that makes me an “old” Gen Y? 😛

Something else that was interesting: In one of the agile meetings we had they proved that multi-tasking was actually less efficient overall through some exercises. It made a lot of sense… I guess multi-tasking is fine if one task is not demanding, but if you have two or more demanding tasks something has to suffer — we don’t think twice as fast in that case! 😉

young says:

@Invest it Wisely- Haha, what makes you an “old” Gen Y is ICQ! (Did you remember that?) Ahhh those were the days! Multi-tasking is shown to be less effective- and I have to stop myself from doing that, sometimes I find myself trying to talk to my colleagues while typing away at the computer. I may be THINKNG that I am multi-tasking but I am just being rude! 🙁

Emily says:

PLEASE don’t call me an elder, LOL (I’m 41).

And some of us “elders” are realizing that working 30-40 yrs 40 hrs a wk is not the way to live. I don’t see it as lazy, as long as what you’re after is fulfilling a calling, a dream, and not spending the rest of your life on a beach.

young says:

@Emily- LOL I”m sorry I shouldn’t have used that word, Elder haha. It does have a lot of stigma and connotations attached to it, eh?

I am 32 and work with a lot of people aged 18-26. I work in construction and after dealing with this next generation, I just shake my head. Mind you they are not all bad, but finding bright people with a good work ethic is harder and harder each year.

I call this lot, “Generation Whyyyyyy!?”

I have to supervise a large group of these young workers and I can’t go 5 minutes without catching someone using their phone. They get one warning, then they get written up. If they are not on their phone, they are standing around talking. They can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, let alone work and talk at the same time…Multi-taskers they are not. Sometimes I remind them to inhale or exhale just in case.

They think showing up 2 minutes before they are supposed to START working is being early. When Given a shitty job to do, they spend more time complaining whyyyyy, when the task would have been completed already if they weren’t so lazy.

Some Tips for Generation Whyyyyy:
Work hard, put your time in the trenches like everyone else did before you and you will be rewarded WHEN YOU DESERVE IT!
Show respect for your more experienced co-workers, they can really save your ass when you mess up.
Ask a lot of questions. It’s better to ask a question and FEEL stupid, then to screw something up and BE stupid.

That’s about it, I feel much better after ranting on. Thanks Young!

young says:

@Addiction2Dividends- Haha generation Whyyy? I haven’t heard of that before. I enjoyed your rant and I am glad it was therapeutic for you 😉 I am guilty about the phone thing. I can’t stay off my iphone!! I need to work on that 😉

Jen @ SheBloggs says:

Love this! I actually think that Gen Y is given a bad wrap. I don’t think they’re lazy – they’re ambitious. They’re more efficient and want to move on.

Are they impatient? Absolutely! However, that could actually be a plus.

If I were to hire someone, I would prefer someone who is going to come up with innovative ideas on how to get something done quickly and more efficiently. As a recruiter, I actually have clients who specifically request Gen Y candidates for specific positions. So it can go either way.

young says:

@Jen- Thanks for your positive spin on Generation Y 🙂 Good to hear that companies actually WANT generation Y. Of course, there are bad apples in every generation and I’m glad to hear that people want us 🙂 Being able to think outside of the box is a definite plus and very helpful for companies like Apple and Google etc.

Melissa says:

I’m 24, prime Gen Yer right here, and I can type like a mofo. It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago when I did an impromptu phone interview and didn’t have my recorder handy, so I typed the entire conversation verbatim as we were talking, and then my coworker commented on how fast I can type that I even realized it was a big deal! “What, you can’t transcribe conversations in real time?”

There is one coworker at my job that’s my age, and the rest are in their early-mid 30s (not old by any stretch of the imagination, but older than me), and I’ve found the best way to keep from looking like a total baby is to not say things that will remind them how old I am. For instance, when 9/11 happened, I was in the ninth grade, and my boss had just finished law school. If that doesn’t make the age gap seem ginormous, I don’t know what will!

young says:

@Melissa- I hate telling people how old I am at work too. Most people think I am older (which I will take as a compliment and not assume its because I look haggard and old) and I get very sheepish when they ask how old I am 😉

SavingMentor says:

Great piece of writing YT with some good insight! I’m facing the decision of going to work with a bunch of older people right now and I have a very hard time getting my head wrapped around working in a more traditional environment. It’s a great opportunity but I’m just not sure I could thrive there.

Food for thought . . .

young says:

@SavingMentor- Thanks buddy! Hmm gotta update us on how that’s going! It is interesting how generational differences really affects the work environment.

Ravi Gupta says:

Great article! I would say that a lot of the negatives associated with generation Y are due to the the changing world conditions. There is so much competition out there nowadays that you have to multitask and work that much harder. I think generation X had it pretty decently, the times are changes and you have to be flexible.

That being said there is no reason that the tips you mentioned can’t be followed.

-Ravi G.

young says:

@Ravi Gupta- That’s an interesting take on it. I think Generation Y has it pretty decent, because their parents may be saving their assess still. Though with the current economy that may be changing 🙂