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Written by: David Ramage

A google map to navigate a multi-generational workplace. Written for millennials by a millennial.

Many young professionals entering the workforce for the first time as co-op students or new graduates may be faced with the same problem that I was:

What is Cheers? And who is “Norm”?

In many of today's workplaces, we often see organizations transition to millennial-centric models of total rewards. They embrace alternative tactics for recruiting young people. Some of these companies even have millennials holding executive positions in their ranks.

But many millennials do not start out in these organizations. Instead, they work for organizations in which the majority of the workforce comes from previous generations. That means these young people start working in organizations that often carry those previous generations’ values, skillsets, work ethics, and attitudes.

When I started transitioning into the workforce, I knew I would have to ask myself, “What happens if I am one of those millennials?”

In university, we debate and research modern workplace perks. We discuss about the benefits of having flexible schedules and student loan forgiveness. And we loathe the idea of workplaces that does not meet our ethical or social standards. We often write, with our academically charmed synonyms, that we have tasteless disdain for the slightest mention of particular industries and the deplorable people they call employees.

But eventually our university careers must come to an end. We don’t know if we’ll end up in environments in which the values we learned in school will be upheld. We don’t know how flexible our schedules will be. All we know is we’re about to come out with degrees in-hand and student debt stuffed in our back pockets.

But after weeks of applying for our dream entry-level jobs, reality sets in. Sometimes we get lucky. But, sometimes, we accept careers in industries we do not like much. Sometimes we even work in cities we aren’t fond of or one we have never been to. And that benefit package we’re about to receive seems a little more firm than flexible.

Well, we figure, we can get past that.

So on the first day of work, we decide to check our smartphones and update our Facebook accounts. We check Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram. And then we take a photo or seven of our outfits and new workstations with VSCO Cam. But we decide to edit those photos at lunch. Obviously. After all, we’re professionals now.

When we get to our desks, we’re half-surprised to see so many mature workers all around us. There’s that one baby-faced intern in sales, but we probably won’t be doing many projects together. Instead, we’ll be doing spreadsheets all morning with whatshername who loves Cyndi Lauper. (Whoever that is.)

And so we quickly settle into our new roles. We accept that we won’t understand the cultural references slung around the office. But then, in the break room, we cannot help but overhear Jan from accounting utter that sly micro-aggression about the new intern. And after work, Jim, the warehouse foreman, makes that one not-so politically correct comment – the type of comment we grew to abhor in university.

As the months go by, we find ourselves helping our managers with Microsoft Excel and Word. Occasionally, whatshername can’t send emails from her already-outdated Android device. So we step in and dazzle her with our incredulous tech-savviness. But then we’re taken aback by the lack of punctuation in the emails she sends us. We thought punctuation was supposed to help communicate mood and tone!

This happens to many millennials entering the workforce for the first time. You, my friend, will probably enter such a multi-generational workplace. And it’s probably very different from our universities who, for five years, offered us safe spaces, puppy pet exam break rooms, and politically correct classrooms. And sometimes it can be tough and stressful. Sometimes it can be rewarding. But it is always eye opening.

And so, I present to you the following three Timbits that I believe are very important when transitioning into any workplace of any kind – especially multi-generational workplaces.

1) Embrace your "tech-savviness."

To put it bluntly, many of your older colleagues will probably not understand technology like you do. But this does not mean they do not want to learn! As luck has it, you were born into a particular generation that gives you a God-given ability to understand technology usually better than generations past. Use this to your advantage! You may not be a whiz like your comp-sci major roommate who ranted about coding, JavaScript, Ruby on Rails, and Backbone.JS well past midnight. But you do know a couple of handy apps that can help around the office. You may also be able to help with a quick iPhone query or even a printer issue. These may seem insignificant, but they will help you define yourself as a go-to in the office.

2) F2F not SMS.

Entering a multi-generational workplace might resemble your parents’ interests and work ethics. It’ll probably feel really weird and make you wonder if you ever really left home. Funnily enough, it may also remind you of those famous five words: "Get off that damn phone!"

It’s obviously a no-brainier to not use your phone while working. But you will never connect, nor gain respect, with your older colleagues through your computer screen. Everyday you need to hunt someone to have a meaningful conversation with. Your colleagues want to have face-to-face dialogue. It can be as simple as asking, "What are you doing this weekend?" The question doesn’t always have to be that important. But remembering your colleagues’ responses and following-up on them in future conversations is. “How was your daughter’s basketball game on Saturday? I read in the Herald it was a nail-biter!” Developing F2F relationships with your colleagues will strengthen your relationships, enhance your reputation, and develop your soft skills.

3) Have patience.

Let's face it. The past was a different world for many of our older colleagues. Sometimes they may say things that we now recognize to be impolite or even inappropriate. I know this can be very hard for us. We were raised to be very aware of how our words affect others, especially when these words are outside the boundaries of politically correct discourse or current understandings of identity.When faced with these situations, just take a second before responding.

Is this comment really worth responding to at this very moment? You know the comment made you uncomfortable, but sometimes it may not be worthwhile to comment on every slip of the tongue every time. I am not saying that you should tolerate hurtful comments or sly remarks. No one should. Instead, approach the person who said that thing that made you uncomfortable. But be respectful and do it during down time and in private!

I cannot stress how important it is to approach your colleagues in private!

Odds are your colleague isn’t trying to be offensive. But if it keeps happening, take the appropriate action and be courteous in your conduct. Remember: one day that could be you saying something inappropriate. And you’ll probably have no idea.

In a workplace combined with Cold War memories and hot yoga sentiment, we can still share our knowledge and experiences with one another. With our willingness to explore, coupled with the depth of knowledge you and your colleagues have, we can collectively see that our organizations reach greater heights. Together we can all pull our weight and tear down this wall to make our workforce experiences better – not just for us as millennials, but for all of us.

One woosa at a time.

David Ramage, Employee Relations Coordinator (Co-op) at Green Acres Foundation