Biting my tongue goes against every fiber in my being.
I am the youngest person in my office, and not by a little. Everyone I work with is old enough that they could be my parent, and most of them have kids older than me. All of the patronizing is only made worse by the fact that I took over my job after my father retired from it. Most of these people have known me my entire life. I have to admit, it is nice having people that I can go to for advice on things nearby. I tend to get bored enough at work that my mind starts thinking of things way before I can actually call and talk to my dad. There are serious benefits to working with older people. There is one wopping downside though.
photo credit: jekert gwapo
The Generation Gap is Brutal
There are millions of places on the internet where old people bitch about working with younger people. In fact if you google the phrase, “Generation Y,” chances are you’re going to get a listing of articles written by people in their 40s targeted at people in their 40s all about how to work with us young, cocky bastards. What you won’t find in the first 2 pages of google is a single article written by someone who is actually in their twenties. I think there is a reason for that, and we should be aware of it.
Despite being the second largest generation of Americans (slightly smaller than the baby-boomers), and by far and away the highest educated and most diverse generation, we are still regarded as being young and foolish by the people that are still in control of the country. Yep, the Baby-Boomers still have the world in their grasp. We need to learn to deal with that, and for at least another 10-20 years, that means playing on their terms. If we really want to make a difference in this world, we’ve got to make ourselves a functional part of it, not easy to do all of the time.
5 Things to remember when dealing with Baby Boomers
1) Respect everyone, especially your elders.
I know this one isn’t always easy to remember. Our entire lives we’ve been told that everyone is equal, and its wrong to treat anyone as different. Despite the fact that our elders are the ones drilling this nonsense into our heads our entire lives, they resent that we’ve come to believe it. When the teachers started preaching that we were all equal and special that had only one intention in mind, they wanted to end racism. I don’t think racism is ever going to really disappear, but I do think that as a whole our generation is simultaneously more sensitive and more blind to race than our elders. What they didn’t expect as a side effect of our cultural equality brainwashing was that we would stop thinking of someone as being better than us just because they are older, or have done something longer.
To us, co-workers are co-workers, and we treat them all the same. To baby-boomers, being alive for a long time means that you have some sort of mystical power or something, so they should be respected. To me, I just think the world works better if we treat everyone with respect. Everyone is equal, they all deserve professionalism.
2) Their technophobia will affect you.
I am the only person in an entire office full of computer users that actually possesses the skill of typing. Somehow, by virtue of knowing how to turn on the computer, I’ve become the defacto data control guy. It has taken me four years to get everyone to use their own email instead of needing me to print it out and then type it back in for them. This is a serious side effect of stuck in the 80s. I have many laughs about it, but it shouldn’t be funny.
Somehow, I’ve managed to wrangle my way into a position where on top of doing my own job for eight hours a day, I’m also supposed to do any kind of internet related thing for everyone else. I’ve come up with a solution for all of it though, I’ve started teaching them how to use the computer. You’d be surprised how quickly they pick these things up when you just take the time to show them. I’m pretty sure that I’ll have eliminated the most obsolete piece of crap in our office by the end of the year. Yeah, its a fax machine.
3)They know you think you’re smarter then they are.
Here is a dark dirty secret that the baby-boomers absolutely do not want us mellennials to know: They are not actually stupid or senile. I’m not entirely sure why they play it off that they are, but I’ve noticed that the people I work with will downplay their own abilities when it comes to the mental faculties. Sometimes I think it might be out of humility, sometimes laziness, and sometimes it seems to be part of a hierarchy in some secret old guy office politics. No matter why they do it, though, they have a hidden agenda, and if you ever start to let yourself think that you really might be smarter then them… you will get screwed, trust me.
4)All of them are Republicans, even the Democrats.
Not all of them think that being a rogue maverick that wears tea bags is awesome, but all of them believe in small government and big business. Their world was about money and working your ass off to get it. At least they can be considered noble in that they think people should work for what they want. Mostly, they’re still stuck in some pretty outdated ideals. It can be a little much to deal with when they’re making a few racist, classist or homophobic jokes. The best solution is to just ignore them. Because you never want to engage the beast. Best case scenario they let you walk away when your head is about to explode, worst case scenario, their heart explodes instead.
No one wants their words to be fatal to an old person.
5) If its not important, keep your mouth shut.
This is by far and away the hardest thing for me to do, but its probably the thing that has made my job the easiest on me. I don’t offer help unless asked, and I don’t comment on their outdated and backwards jokes. I keep as quiet as I can until someone asks me a question, or I explode into a giant fiery ball of “I’m mad as hell.” Most of the time, I just do my job, and silently wait for them to all, well, lets just say retire.
There you go, there are 5 things for a Twenty Something to remember when working with the Baby Boomers. There are a lot more secrets and tips, and tons of other things you should educate yourself on ranging from old person jargon to what a “pork belly” actually is. (Apparently in the 70s it was some form of currency) How do you survive working with baby boomers?