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3 Tips for Millennials Working With Gen. X Bosses

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Maria Onzain | November 2018

According to the Pew Research Center, millennials are the largest generation in the US labor force. Unfortunately, they don’t always get along with the other generations in the workforce.

This is especially true in the case of relationships between millennials and Gen. X-ers, who are often millennials’ bosses. As Yvette Maurice writes for Open Colleges, millennials and Gen. X-ers often hold contrasting attitudes toward work and prefer incompatible forms of communication, which can lead to many workplace conflicts.

As John McDermott writes for MEL Magazine, Gen. X-ers often see millennials as entitled and lazy. Some Gen. X-ers even accuse millennials of depressing wages by working more hours for less money.

McDermott notes that millennials came of age during the Great Recession. As a result, they’ve battled high unemployment rates, underemployment, lower salaries, and unfavorable working conditions for much of their professional lives.

Understanding where both sides are coming from is the first step in fixing conflicts between them and ensuring everyone gets along in the office.

For millennials who want to establish happy, healthy relationships with their Gen. X bosses, it’s a good idea to follow these three tips:

1. Communicate Wisely

Communication styles are a common source of conflict between millennials and Gen. X-ers. Millennials feel very comfortable using several different communication platforms all at once. In comparison, Gen. X-ers generally prefer to talk in person. Millennials think their Gen. X bosses waste too much time chatting in meetings, while Gen. X-ers consider the younger generation’s communication style too cold and unproductive.

In reality, both communication styles are perfectly acceptable and can be complementary to each other. It’s all about choosing the most appropriate method for each specific occasion.

For example, if you need to keep a record of your conversation or share important documents, email is the way to go. If you need real-time feedback, you can always follow up your email with a face-to-face conversation. Don’t be shy. Get up and go to your boss’s desk. When this is not possible, pick up the phone for a productive call, instead of messaging back and forth.

2. Understand What Your Boss Means by ‘Workplace Flexibility’

While both millennials and Gen. X-ers are fans of workplace flexibility, they often have very different ideas of what “flexibility” means.

Millennials may be known as the flexible generation, but it was actually Gen. X-ers who really pioneered the concept of work/life balance. They broke the traditional 9-to-5 work schedule in search of more harmonious lives.

Gen. X-ers may appreciate flexible start and end times or the option to work from home part-time, but millennials take the idea of workplace flexibility to a new level. This generation’s concept of flexibility includes everything from fun company cultures and cool office amenities to 100 percent remote work schedules.

To successfully work together, the two generations need to understand and respect each other’s flexibility preferences. While this means your Gen. X boss should accommodate your flexibility needs to some degree, it also means you have to adjust your work style to fit in with the rest of the team.

3. Learn From Each Other

Millennials were born into a world of information overload and advanced technology, so it is very easy for them to pick up new tech tools. In contrast, Gen. X-ers have had to rapidly adapt to a changing business environment, and keeping up with the latest tech trends is less natural for them. As a millennial, you can help close the digital skills divide by helping your Gen. X boss acquire some new technology skills.

While Gen. X-ers will certainly see the advantages of working with the fast-learning millennials, millennials have much to gain from their more experienced Gen. X bosses as well.

There is so much Gen. X-ers can teach millennials. For instance, millennials can learn how to gain credibility within the organization by observing how Gen. X-ers navigate the company’s political climate. Millennials can also learn from Gen. X-ers about emotional intelligence, a skill of every true leader.

In spite of all their differences, Gen. X-ers and millennials do have a lot in common, and acknowledging these shared traits will lead to better, more productive relationships between workers of these generations.

Compared to older generations, millennials and Gen. X-ers are quick decision-makers. Even though they may express themselves in different ways, members of each generation are ambitious and hard-working. Millennials and Gen. X-ers also prioritize work/life balance over working long hours for higher pay.

When millennials and Gen. X-ers learn to work with rather than against one another, everyone benefits. Millennials can learn new skills from their Gen. X bosses, Gen. X-ers can learn new work strategies from their millennial employees, and the overall business will thrive.

Maria Onzain is a digital marketing expert for Open Colleges.

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