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5 Ways to Bridge the Generation Gap at Work

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The number of workers older than 55 is expected to increase by 19.8 percent between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the workforce now includes five generations for the first time in history.

What does that mean for you? That strange sensation—when you look around a room full of people and realize “I’m older than all these people”—is becoming more and more common.

Being older than your coworkers can be disorienting, to be sure. But bridging a generational gap (or four) can also present specific challenges that may make teamwork tricky.

We asked expert Aerotek recruiters for their advice on how to relate with younger coworkers in ways that benefit everybody.

Know your strengths

First, you’ve got a lot going for you! According to several studies published by AARP, senior staff are more likely to show up on time, work hard, pay attention to detail and make informed decisions using past experiences.

The result? Unique value in the workplace. Aerotek Senior Professional Recruiter Jackie Ross explains, “Older workers are a tremendous resource for organizations because of the experience and variety of situations they’ve been in during their careers.”

Aerotek Senior Professional Recruiter Matt Wiehe finds solace and strength in seniority. “The best advice I can give is to be true to who you are. I’m older than 95 percent of my coworkers, and I have always viewed that as a positive,” he says.

Even though it can feel a little strange to think of your age as a characteristic that gives you unique value, approaching your role in the workplace with a positive attitude about what you bring to the table can help a lot. It’s easy to forget that lessons learned from a history of work experience aren’t second nature to younger employees.

Aerotek’s Julie Lewis stresses the intangibles. “It’s hard to calculate the exact value of making efficient decisions and creating workable solutions based upon prior experience and overall knowledge, but it’s big.”

Recruiter Amy Hargrove adds, “Employees with years and years of experience are no stranger to showing up early, ready to work hard and follow directions.”

Relating to younger coworkers in a way that helps you all get the job done starts with recognizing your own value. Approach tasks and teamwork with an awareness of what everybody’s best at—especially you.

Reach out

As Jackie Ross explains, “The biggest piece of advice I give anyone entering a workplace, no matter the age, is to just get to know people and connect with them to the best of your ability.”

Julie Lewis recommends finding areas of common interest with co-workers. “It’s a great way to adjust to a new environment, it is a way to find a connection to begin to build professional relationships,” she says.

A good approach is to ask around about people’s hobbies and tastes. Everybody’s interested in something. Once you’ve established a rapport, it’s much easier to work together.

Keep an open mind

Younger coworkers might have limited experience with intergenerational relationships other than with their own parents. They might assume you’re more set in your ways than you actually are. Showing that you’re flexible and adaptable can build trust and break down stereotypes.

“If a contractor of any age shows curiosity about ways they can grow and learn, they should never have a problem relating to their coworkers,” notes Amy Hargrove.

Morgan McCormick agrees: “Keep an open mind and realize you both have great ideas to bring to the table.”

Visit past posts on the Aerotek blog for more on how everybody can learn within multi-generational workplaces.

Share your experience

Look at your years of experience as a skillset just as valuable as any other. If you have knowledge that can help the team based on situations you’ve dealt with in the past, speak out.

While your accumulated wisdom gives you unique value, it doesn’t help if you keep it a secret. As Matt Wiehe says, “Use your extra years of skill to not only get ahead, but help teach and coach those around you.”

Get help

If you still feel like there’s a disconnect, ask around! With the rising numbers of older employees, one thing’s for sure: You’re not alone.

There are plenty of other who know how you feel, and plenty of experienced professionals, such as the Aerotek recruiters mentioned in this article—Jackie Ross, Matt Wiehe, Morgan McCormick, Hargrove and Julie Lewis—who can help guide you through.

And if you’re looking for a job, visit our job board to browse your options. You can create a free career account today to customize your search.