5 Things I’ve Learned Working With Older Colleagues
For a young person, working with an older generation can be challenging. Having to assert yourself in an environment with an older generation means always trying to prove that you are the right one for the job. At the same time, you meet people who have been on the job way longer than your life. Having experienced it with my current job, I thought to share the 5 things I’ve learned working with older colleagues.
I have been working with my employer for at least three years now. At my workplace, I happen to be the youngest of all. Couple that with the fact that our office is male-dominated and only has four women against 25 men. As the youngest of the bunch, it was difficult for me to fully feel like I belonged with my group of employees. Often, I felt my voice could not be heard and that it was insignificant. It took some time to fully stand ground and feel at home.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned working with older colleagues:
1. Stand your Ground
When I started working, one thing I failed miserably at was standing my ground. I wanted to be a people pleaser, more especially because my colleagues were way older than me. What this started was people always walking all over me. Within a few months, I realized that I would find my day filled out with me performing tasks for others while my own work piled up on my desk.
Once this realization occurred, I decided it was time for a change. I learned to stand my ground and actually deny the unnecessary tasks handed to me because someone wants to have an extra hour of chats. It was important to show that as much as they were my elders, we were on the same level as far as working was concerned.
Properly communicate your boundaries, while doing so, make sure assertive. Make sure to properly share your beliefs and boundaries and make them respect them. That way, they learn to ask for assistance and that you can only do it when you have time and not at their time.
2. Some want Too Much Respect
Another thing I learned in this working environment is how others require too much respect. I joke with my colleagues that some of them ask for the same respect they get from their wives or children at home. While it is taken as a light joke, there is some truthfulness from there. Some older colleagues will treat you as a child even if you have the same position.
While it is important to give them respect, but again, there have to be boundaries. Once you allow them to treat you like a child, then you are setting yourself up for failure. It is important to give respect and have it reciprocated. Yes, they are older, but in a workspace, age becomes a number.
3. They are a ball of Experience to learn from
One of the best things about working with older colleagues is that you get yo tap into their knowledge on-the-job. Like I said earlier, they have been working for way too long and are well experienced. This allows any young person to tap into their experience on the job and learn from them. It makes it easier especially during moments when one wants to familiarize themselves with systems that have been existing for a long time.
It is therefore important to go into such a workplace with an open mind. Be willing to unlearn and learn, be teachable. You have to make yourself be approachable to them regardless of the age barrier. At the same time, ask as many questions as you can. This will also show them that you appreciate their knowledge. As a matter of fact, it allows a two way learning street, where they also come to you to learn.
4. They have Insecurities too
When I was in an HR class, I remember the lecturer always emphasizing on why working with older colleagues is hard. One of the reasons was that they find youngsters as threats to their work. While I understood the reasons he would give, I got to learn the intensity of their insecurities from working with the bunch that I work with now.
Some older colleagues see you as their replacement, a subtle way of the organization telling them that their knowledge is a bit outdated. I kid you not, this is actually something my close colleague told me. You with your fresh university degree, equipped with the new tech know-how and bursting with energy becomes the opposite of what they are now. A mere shadow of their past self.
This is why some will give you a tough time when you join the organization. Over the years, I have learned that the solution to this is actually in point 3 above. Show them that you need their knowledge, then offer to share yours. This assures them that they are still important and relevant, while you get some learning done.
5. You learn more about Life
If your workplace is like mine, then you will hear and see things that you wouldn’t imagine. Old people are always buzzing about life. In my years of working in this company, I became a believer that black magic is real. There was once a time I shared a thread on Twitter about a colleague dropping his charm in the middle of the office.
You see life from their eyes and that gives you a glimpse of the reality of life. Not that you do not know the reality, but it opens you up to things outside of the realm. And that is a beauty in itself.
These are just the 5 things I’ve learned from working with older colleagues. Remember, just like any relationship, these require a lot of communication to establish mutual understanding and respect. It becomes uncomfortable to call them by their names, go with calling them by the surname instead. Once in a while, allow them to baby you, enjoy it truly.
Do you work with a lot of older people, share with me what your experience has been like so far in the comment section below.