Young Workers: How to Gain Your Older Co-Workers' Respect

The Economist reports that in firms such as Tata, Google and Ernst & Young, up to 70% of the workforce is less than 30 years old. Employers are increasingly inclined to hire and even promote so-called ‘millennials’ or Generation Ys. Compared to baby boomers and Generation X workers, youthful millennials are technically savvy, proactive, aggressive and eager for greater responsibilities. Millenial workers often bear the brunt of workplace generational differences; older workers naturally expect to be listened to and respected, and not the other way round. However, it is entirely possible for younger workers to feel valued in an office that is dominated by older workmates.

Listen up and work collaboratively

Just because an older colleague does not use Facebook or WhatsApp to communicate does not mean they have nothing to contribute. Older workers have plenty of experience. They can be of immense value to new or young hires who are still learning the ropes. An effective way to earn their respect is asking them questions, listening, and eagerly requesting their input when solving a problem. Ignoring older coworkers, taking on an overly argumentative approach or refusing to participate in teamwork activities will not only create tension; it will also make you look immature.

Demonstrate confidence in your mannerism

Whether you are contributing an idea, giving a presentation, or having a chat with colleagues, your behavior must be mature and project confidence. Avoid speaking to your older colleagues in the same way you would speak to your peers. Your personal grooming should also be decent to project an aura of self-respect, seriousness and professionalism.

Never act superior or discriminative

According to Todd Berger, the 35 year old President and CEO of Transportation Solutions Enterprises in Chicago, younger workers can be valued in the workplace if they do not try to change others. Even if you are more knowledgeable in a certain area than your colleagues, avoid being abrasive or patronizing about it. More importantly, never whine to your colleagues that they are ‘so old-fashioned.’ If you want to bring in a new way of doing things, professionally suggest this to your supervisor or calmly solicit a buy-in from your coworkers.

Contribute and over-deliver

Go beyond your co-workers’ expectations and they will respect you for your hard work. Generally, older colleagues expect younger workers to slack off, lack a sense of responsibility or an ability to lead. Prove them wrong by contributing valuable ideas during meetings, seeking and taking up leadership roles, arriving at the office earlier, and completing your projects on time.

Make personal connections

It may seem difficult to connect with people who are your parents’ age. But having allies in the workplace is the best way to survive office politics. Identify one or two older colleagues who can mentor you, support you in the office and vouch for your ideas. Find some common ground that will bring you closer together—this could be volunteer activities, working on a project together, or attending sports events with your colleagues.

It is highly unlikely that you may be able to get rid of your older workmates. To gain their respect, your best approach is to consistently go beyond their expectations; deliver quality results and demonstrate your value to the organization.