THE BLOG
01/25/2011 05:58 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Over 30? Quit Whining About the Next Generation at Work

I'm going to say something to my fellow professionals over 30. You probably don't want to hear it, but you should: Quit whining about how the next generation is ruining the workplace.

My grandparents' parents were looked upon by their elders as being headed for big trouble because of their newfangled, non-traditional ways of living. Something about immigrating to America, I think. It was bound to end in disaster.

My parents were chastised by their parents -- the children of those same wacky, devil-may-care immigrants -- for listening to overly suggestive, inappropriate music, destined to be the downfall of modern society. I'm talking about stuff like -- brace yourself -- "I want a dream lover so I don't have to dream alone" (Bobby Darin, 1959) or "You are my candy girl and you've got me wanting you" (The Archies, 1969). Scandalous! The old people were up in arms.

Need I bore you with more examples? I'm sure you have your own.

Every generation gripes about the next one. If you're over 30 and complaining about young peoples' short attention spans caused by Twitter, or their insensitivity to violence caused by video games, or the reduction in their thinking and problem solving skills caused by Google, stop it. It's not novel, not interesting, not productive, not effective. Just stop it.

I'm not saying you should stop believing those things -- that's up to you, and whatever research you're willing to find. To be honest, I'm inclined to agree with you on some of the facts. It's undisputed, for example, that people who have worked for less time often lack the wisdom that experience brings. That's not exactly news. If you meet a younger person in the workplace who has poor communication skills, or lacks a complete understanding of your business, and you want to be a mentor, great!

Of course, if you meet someone your own age in the workplace with poor communication skills, or an incomplete understanding of the business, you might also want to mentor that person. Come to think of it, you probably shouldn't make decisions regarding who to mentor based on age. You certainly wouldn't feel comfortable making such decisions based upon gender or race.

Helping is good. Creating action plans is good. Doing research and publishing results along with suggested improvement actions is great. Complaining, on the other hand, is useless. It creates unnecessary worry, fear and division. It reinforces the notion that this generation is different from that one, when in reality many similarities offset the differences. If you don't believe me, just find a few sets of parents in their 20s, a few in their 30s and a few in their 40s and ask them what they want for their children. I'll bet the answers are pretty similar.

Besides being divisive, complaining also damages your credibility. I can't be the first person who has noticed this, but many of you are complaining about social media on social media. It would be one thing if you weren't participating in the evils you condemn. I suppose you'd still be the next generation of old-fogeys, griping about those young whippersnappers, but at least you'd have integrity. You'd be on the porch in a rocking chair, bemoaning the loss of your old Model T and shaking your fist at youngsters speeding by in their new, fast, scary cars.

But that's not the case. A surprising number of you are on blogs, Facebook and Twitter, mourning the demise of youth caused by blogs, Facebook and Twitter. I personally know more than one person who will bemoan the younger generation's loss of interpersonal skills because of text messaging, then stop mid-sentence to flip open a phone and read an inbound text message. That's just crazy. And, it makes you look like a hypocrite.

You and I have both already figured out that the new tools themselves are not bad. (I can tell you've concluded that, because you're using them.) Much of our concern, then, stems from our discomfort with the change itself. We're somewhat distracted by all the texts, blogs and social media, so we assume younger people will be, too. I hate to be this particular messenger, but the problem might not be with the new stuff. The problem might be that our brains got all baked up before the new stuff came along. We didn't have the chance to build the kinds of neural pathways necessary to use all of it. That's why your kid is better with a computer than you are: he or she grew up with it. You and I didn't.

Actually, I did grow up with just a little of it. My generation was predicted to have serious violence issues because of our modern video games. Games like "Pac Man" and "Donkey Kong," played on controllers that had a single joystick and maybe two buttons at most, doomed us. And yet, rarely do you see a delinquent 30-something prowling the streets hurling wooden barrels at innocent bystanders. We turned out so well, in fact, that we're the ones now worrying about serious violence issues in children because of the current generation of video games -- games, by the way, which are played on controllers so complex that many of us can't even use them properly.

Of course, I'm not saying don't worry. I'm saying don't complain! Instead, take action within your sphere of influence. You could mentor a few kids in your neighborhood, or start a new hire development program at your office. Or, if you manage young people, you could be extra careful to be specific and clear about job expectations and the results of performance and non-performance. Be a really great manager, and you'll be a really great role model.

But whether you're mentoring or role modeling, I suggest you avoid broad statements about generational differences and details about how your young audience is doomed. Instead, tell them they're joining the workforce at the most exciting time in history, when technology is going to help us make personal and informational connections beyond our wildest dreams. Tell them the basics are still important -- businesses need revenue, for example, and people need to know how to communicate with each other. But also show them you understand that they're going to have to do some things differently than you did, because the challenges they face will be different than yours were. Show them what they need, and then ask for their thoughts on how they might apply what you've demonstrated. In short, treat them with respect. That's one interpersonal behavior that never goes out of style.

If you do that, I'll bet the respect will flow both ways. Who knows, your blog might get more hits than ever before. I promise I'll read it -- at least until my next text message comes in.