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Bridging Workplace Generation Gaps

By Michelle Yozzo Drake

"They just don't make music like they used to," my assistant sighed one afternoon. "It all sounds the same, and I don't know why they insist on playing it so loud."

Suddenly, a horrified look crossed her face and she clapped her hand over her mouth.

"Oh no! I sound just like my father!"

I couldn't hide my grin. Welcome to the wonderful world of aging.

As I walked back to my office, chuckling over the fact that the music she considers superior to today's was probably the same music I rejected as being inferior to what I grew up listening to, I was struck by the generation gap between us.

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Though TECHNICALLY I'm old enough to be her...much older sister, we don't seem to have much trouble bridging the years in age between us. Sure, I don't completely understand why she has so many tattoos or why she gets separation anxiety from her computer when the network is down, but I do have an inkling considering I was young...youngER once too.

In our roles as boss (me) and employee (her), we communicate exceptionally well, and our teamwork has brought many successful projects and satisfied clients to my organization.

But what if SHE was the boss and I was the employee? Would we work so well together then?

Thanks to technology, modern medicine and a failing Social Security system, the years of reaching the golden age of retirement, leaving the workforce, and living out the rest of your days playing golf in Florida are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Though I am FAR from the age of 65, I know that many in that demographic are still thriving in corporate America - and most of them are coming face-to-face with the challenge of working under bosses and supervisors that are young enough to be their children.

How can they successfully balance their work styles with the sometimes clashing styles of bosses belonging to Generations X and Y?

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1. Adopt the correct attitude. Don't assume that younger means less experienced. He or she was hired because they proved they were capable of handling the job - respect that. Have a positive perspective and focus on having an open mind. Remember, if you assume the worst, that's exactly what you'll get.

2. Do a little bit of research on your boss. You'll start to understand how you'll be evaluated by him or her and how you can best showcase your value to the team.

3. Find common ground and build up from there. Taking the whole age factor out, you'll probably find that you have some interests in common, whether it's department goals, procedures and processes or even elements of your work style. Use those common elements to create a foundation; then, examine the ways in which you differ and how you can meld together the best of both worlds for greater personal, departmental and organizational success.

4. Resist the urge to be a parental figure. He or she may be young enough to be your child, but never forget that they are the boss and you are an employee. Never give advice regarding personal matters, coddle or patronize, or wipe a spot of schmutz off their cheek!

5. Focus on understanding the way that you communicate and how your boss communicates. While you may prefer the phone or face-to-face, he or she probably prefers e-mail, IM or text messaging. Understanding your boss's communication style and adapting your own to fit it will create smoother lines of communication.

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�Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.� � Theodore Roosevelt