How to Work Harmoniously with Older Coworkers

How to Work Harmoniously with Older Coworkers

By: Daniel Steingold | May 20, 2016

As baby boomers retire, millennials will become a bigger part of the workforce. Millennials, defined as those born between the early 1980s and 2001, comprised 34 percent of workers in 2013. By 2020, millennials are expected to make up 46 percent of the working population.

Although millennials and older generations may share many of the same beliefs, their values also diverge in many respects. Millennials value flexibility and freedom of choice in the workplace, a high degree of work-life balance, and meaningful work.

Baby boomers, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, conversely tend to cherish job stability and the status quo. They are often more willing to sacrifice for a single employer, and thus, have been seen to be more loyal.

The work styles of millennials also greatly differ from that of baby boomers— and even Generation X. While millennials often prefer to communicate via technology— text, social media, chat, etc.— baby boomers generally prefer to communicate face-to-face. While millennials may focus more on statistics and other metrics for proof of results, baby boomers are more likely to point to the hours and effort put in.

Perhaps most importantly, millennials have great expectations as a whole, whether in terms of salary, work environment, or their own abilities. Other generations including baby boomers and Gen Xers, tend to adopt a more down-to-earth approach.

This blog post will discuss how millennials can best thrive in their relationships with older coworkers.

Ask for Help

It is important to have the courage to ask older coworkers for help, if for no other reason than they will usually take pride in being able to lend their abilities and expertise.

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Listening to what your older coworkers have to say and consulting them for help makes them feel valued. It must be clarified that asking for help should never be seen as a sign of weakness.

Seeking out a mentor can be a good way to understand the perspectives of older coworkers. Mentorship can also help you obtain info about the workplace and company culture that you wouldn’t be privy to otherwise. Remember, in seeking a mentor, you’re not alone: a 2012 study conducted by MTV found that 75% of millennial workers would like to have a mentor.

As it happens, Gen X individuals are generally seen to be the best group to learn from. One study found that 70% of Gen Xers are believed to make the best leaders. This can be attributed to the fact that Gen Xers have a positive, yet grounded demeanor, along with the ability to mediate between baby boomers and millennials.

Conversely, only 5% of workers found millennials to be the best in managerial positions.

Understand Their Perspective

Trying to understand older workers’ perspectives can aid in establishing a harmonious relationship.

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As aforementioned, the prevailing stereotype, regardless of its accuracy, is that baby boomers possess a strong work ethic and a collaborative spirit. As proof of such, EY (formerly known as Ernst & Young), conducted a study with 1,215 professionals. The findings were that 73% of fellow employees ranked boomers favorably on their work ethic, while another 56% believed that they were team players.

The same study found that 68% believed millennials to be entitled, and 38% found them to be the most difficult group to work with.

Look for Solidarity

It is important to look for things you have in common with older coworkers, whether this consists of something on the job or personal interests.

As an example of the former, if you have sales goals you want to hit, you can create solidarity with an older coworker by doing whatever it takes to reach those goals.

As for personal interests, you can connect on sharing an affinity for the same sports team or brand of beer, or even sharing music or film tastes.

Speaking of which, it is never bad to express genuine knowledge, interest, or respect for the cultural mainstays of your elders. If you’re really into 70s music, don’t be ashamed to admit it!

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It is important to create a sense of solidarity with coworkers who are older than you as it will not only improve your perception and relations in their eyes, but in that of your superiors.

Reverse mentoring, the concept of a millennial providing guidance to older coworkers, can be an interesting method by which to promote solidarity. It doesn’t work in all workplaces, but it can be a way to help bridge the gap between young and old, if implemented well.

Be Patient

Part of the reason that reverse mentoring can work is because baby boomers don’t know everything. In fact, in terms of technology, many baby boomers have a world to learn from millennials.

With this being said, do not assume that older coworkers are tech deficient. If in doubt, ask them what they do and don’t know at an appropriate moment, and be willing to lend a helping hand.

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Since older generations have their own way of doing things, it is imperative to never express the notion that you think their methods are outdated or silly.

Something that many millennials don’t understand about baby boomers is that little jokes or comments they make that could be interpreted in a negative light, usually aren’t meant to be offensive. Understanding that they grew up without social media, and even the debate over rights we take for granted nowadays— feminism, LGBT rights, etc.— is something easy to forget.

With patience comes understanding; look at everything as a learning experience for both you and older coworkers, and you’re on the right track.


Although this is a simple point, it is perhaps the most important: there must be constant communication between millennials and older workers. If this means over-communicating, so be it.

Communicate whenever you have any unresolved issue with an older coworker. An unresolved issue can be directly work-related, or encompass any set of emotions, such as feelings of frustration, anger, impatience, confusion, or anxiety.

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Ultimately, a millennial who takes the time to clearly articulate his thoughts with a baby boomer or Gen Xer, even when uncomfortable doing so, will have shown initiative in personal growth and development.

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