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Dan Henry

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Listen Up! Workplace Words for New Grads and Old Guard

Posted: 05/14/2013 9:41 am

It's graduation season. That means thousands of newly minted employees flooding into workplaces where a new round of head butting between generations will begin.

As chief human resources officer for a global company of 22,000, I've heard all the complaints: "Gen X has no work ethic!" "Boomers don't get it!"

So before the latest sparring partners take to their cubicles...a few words of advice to the newly minted graduates and the experienced folks they'll be working with:

For the experienced:

Accept the new: Like it or not, phone calls are so 20th century. Feel free to leave voice messages but don't be surprised―or offended ―if nobody listens. A better bet: go with the flow and send an email, but be prepared to watch that fade away, too. Better yet...text, Snapchat, message, or tweet.

Don't generalize: Just because today's 21-year-olds were born with a video-game console in their hands doesn't make them slackers. Instead of summarily dismissing a whole generation as poorly motivated, recognize their youth and the potential of their contributions, and then give them a chance to deliver. After all, you may just need their gifted hand-eye coordination at some point.

Stop peddling hopelessness: In a recent opinion piece, the New York Times' Charles Blow wrote largely about his inability to find hopeful words for an address to graduates and then went on to detail six reasons their world was likely going to stink. Wow...I'm glad he didn't speak at my graduation. There's no need to sugarcoat a tough economy, but sending a constant message of utter hopelessness does no one any good...and they'll tune you out anyway.

Remember how much you didn't know: We'd all like to say we were experts in protocol from day one...but we'd be wrong. If we're honest, most of us can probably think back to a few [hundred] gaffes we made under the heading of, "The establishment is so dumb." Give 'em a hand while understanding there's a learning curve.

For the newcomers:

Respect the traditional: Put down the smart phone. Engaging in ongoing text conversations during a lunch meeting is no better than leaving your host to go sit at someone else's table. Be more present when you're present; stay connected virtually but available personally.

Don't generalize: You know how you hate sweeping statements about your generation? Your Gen X and boomer colleagues don't like it either. They may not have your technical skills, but that doesn't mean they don't have a thing or two to offer about important issues like job strategy, communications, and even etiquette. Those things matter. Learn from them.

Be patient: Listen up kids...the terms "entry level" and "middle manager" are not dirty words. People can make important contributions from anywhere on the ladder, and doing good work moves your career along. Remember, for most of us, rising through the ranks is generally not done in the instant, "Teenage genius sells $10-million app to Yahoo!" kind of way.

Play by the Rules: Rather than setting out to dictate the rules ― take-me-or-leave-me style ― play by them for a while. Over time and with good work, you may be able to find some flexibility. But if you want fans at the office, you have to start by living by the laws of the jungle.

Bottom line....

Give each other a chance. Every generation is guided by their time of world. That means today's 21-year-old men and women have their own unique challenges and dispositions, just as the counter-culture generation did... and the post-war generation...and every generation before and since. We all felt unique, we all felt misunderstood, we all felt we could do things better, and we all felt the need to blaze our trail. Progress comes from moving forward while remembering the plusses and minuses of the past. Listen to your peers on both sides of the generation divide. It's a whole lot better than the migraine you'll get from butting heads.

 
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