Karen Darrin

Last week, I onboarded a new employee into her “first real job” after graduation. What an eye-opening jolt that was! My mind swirled in recalling my own “first real job” after college graduation a thousand years ago. I was so green, so scared of making a mistake, and determined to fit in with the office despite the fact that I stood out like a toddler in a nursing home.

It got me to thinking about sharing some tips and tricks about working with someone who is just starting out in their career. Here are my ideas, in no particular order.

Redefine How Work Gets Done

Be willing to see the world through the younger employee’s eyes. If you are a baby boomer you learned from your supervisors decades ago that work was conducted with formal agendas and meetings. Now think of your younger colleagues who have grown up believing that productive interactions are online, on text and on video. Informal and brief interactions are the norm for younger employees. Just because there is not a rectangular table with you sitting at the head does not mean that work isn’t being done. Brief, frequent and efficient interactions are becoming the communications norm in today’s workplace.

Define the “What” and let them figure out the “How”

A striking 44 percent of younger workers complain that older managers micromanage, according to the Society of Human Resource Managers survey. They crave independence and want to do things their way. What Gen Y calls micromanaging, however, is typically a Boomer’s inclination to share an experience or to shorten a Millennial’s learning curve. OUCH!

Note to self: Back off. Keep yourself from constantly intervening, but instead offer constructive criticism and instruction when needed. Also, be sure to make your expectations and needs exceedingly clear. Then give younger colleagues an opportunity to carry out their tasks.

Your Feedback Timing and Content is Critical

Boomers tend to adopt a “no news is good news” policy, only giving feedback when something needs improvement, rather than heaping on the kudos. But, 60 percent of Millennials want feedback from their bosses once a day, according to a November 2011 report from Robert Half International and Yahoo! HotJobs.

Offering too little feedback or too much criticism can cause younger workers to up and leave. Set expectations about when and how you’ll provide feedback, including performance check-ins, meetings, emails or other methods. And anytime you notice a job well done, provide positive feedback.

Ask for Reverse Mentoring

Many companies such as Target, Cisco, Colgate Palmolive, UnitedHealth Group and EY (Formerly Ernst & Young) find reverse mentoring effective. It’s an opportunity for younger workers to advise senior ones on the technology their generation prefers and how they like to engage. At EY, says reverse mentoring program manager Jeff Stier, topics can include technology, social media, change management and flexibility; the younger worker sets the agenda.

Above all, don’t stereotype colleagues, no matter their ages.  Every case is unique, We all know plenty of people who are older in years but younger in spirit or the reverse. My new hire happens to be an “old soul.”  With her loving family foundation, education, and her excitement to contribute to the company’s mission, partnering with her will be an ongoing joy for me, despite her age, or lack thereof!


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