Individuals of different generations have so much to learn from one another at work — despite the “OK Boomer” meme that spread across the Internet last week, pitting Millennials against Baby Boomers. The reality is, when we see our co-workers as individuals who bring different skills and life experiences to the table, both employers and employees stand to benefit.
We asked our Thrive community to describe small moments where they gained insight from someone from a different generation at work, and we were touched by the stories they shared about connecting with people at every age, and how it changed their outlook.
Gaining insight into different strategies
“I recently had a profound sense of insight into new ways of growing my business while working with a very accomplished and thoughtful Gen Z client. Our conversation left me curious and compelled to explore new revenue models. It opened my eyes to strategies I hadn’t considered in the past.”
—Svetlana Dimovski Ph.D., executive coach, Arlington, VA
Getting encouragement to take ownership
“I’ve had the opportunity to interact with a mentor from a different generation over the past several years. One of the most helpful pieces of advice came when I was transitioning to a major management role, and I was nervous to step up. My mentor told me it’s OK not to be the loudest person in the room, and that no matter what, I have something to offer. He taught me that, sometimes, there’s just as much power in silence as there is in contributing your expertise to the conversation.”
—Brittany Chatman, program manager and lifestyle blogger, Tampa, FL
Forming meaningful relationships
“I started an apprenticeship in a five-star hotel in Germany, where I met a mentor who had an outstanding personality, and taught me for years. Today, forty years later, we are still in contact. The three lessons he always taught me were ‘Serve, work hard, and help others succeed.’ I learned that respect has nothing to do with age, but with wisdom. That relationship changed my world for the better.”
—Stephan Busch, academic director, Moscow, Russia
Learning about different kinds of career growth
“In my first full-time position out of college, I did something that many would caution against, and asked the CTO for a one-on-one meeting. Surprisingly, he agreed. When he asked my career goals, I told him I wanted to be a manager, and he replied, ‘You do things that a manager does before someone gives you the title of a manager. Rarely is it you are given a title then become the person.’ His words completely shifted my perspective, and made me see that if I wanted to accomplish my career goals, it had to start with me.”
—Jeff Butler, keynote speaker and author, Cohasset, Massachusetts
Seeing both sides
“I’ve been a mentor for over two decades, and I’ve seen firsthand that passing along our hard-earned knowledge to the next generation is incredibly powerful. Every June, I work with my mentees to write down four questions on an index card, and let the students reflect on their takeaways from the year. As a mentor, I sit back and listen, and learn from them, as well. It motivated me to return and improve for the following year.”
—Patty Alper, author, Chevy Chase, MD
Discovering cognitive reframing
“I’ve had the same corporate lawyer for all my companies, and he’s significantly older than me, When we first started working together, he said to me, ‘The law isn’t about the rules. It’s about how to work within the rules.’ It’s something I take to heart to this day: Every company is an exercise in learning to work within a framework. You find the rules, and then you find the way to use the rules to vault ahead.”
—Ben Lamm, CEO of Hypergiant, Austin, TX
Getting an opportunity to educate others
“Last night, my teenage daughter said to me and her dad, ‘OK, boomer.’ We looked at her, and said, ‘We are actually Gen X.’ She said everyone older is a boomer. We took it as an opportunity to speak about generational stereotypes.”
—Doria, cofounder of CentSai, Brooklyn, NY
Building a two-way support system
“I’m a Boomer who contributes to online publications with Millennial editors. So, when I recently admitted to an editor that I didn’t enjoy writing headlines, he encouragingly said, ‘You need to keep trying’. The supportive statement empowered me to try and not disappoint him. Equally, when a Millennial colleague expressed fears of first-time motherhood, my unconditional support and hindsight through her pregnancy and postpartum cemented our inter-generational bond and camaraderie. Multi-generational perspectives go both ways.”
—Jackie Abramian, PR and social media strategist, Kittery, ME
Have your own anecdote to share about working across generations? Join the conversation in the comments.
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