The culture gap between Generation X and Millennials can cause friction at work. Here's why, and how you can try to bridge the generation gap.
Office Life

How Generation Xers are driving Millennials crazy in the workplace (and vice versa)

As an member of Generation X, I’ve worked with and managed many Millennials. And there are times when knowing a little about each generation, has helped me to understand a colleague.

When generalizing about any group, it’s first necessary to recognize that not everybody in any particular group acts like everyone else. There is often just as much variation within in each group, as there is between groups.

However, because generations come of age and enter the workforce around the same time, members of each generation often share similar experiences. And these shared experiences often shape perceptions and work-style.

So first off, who is in each generation?

  • Baby Boomer: born 1943 to 1960 (aged 55-72 today)
  • Gen-Xer: born 1961 to 1981 (aged 34 to 54 today)
  • Millennial: born 1982-2002 (aged 13 to 33 today)

To understand an Xer, the first thing to know, is that Xers, grew up in a largely hands-off culture. Every generation for the past century has grown up with less and less self-autonomy. For an interesting article describing change over four generations, check out: How children lost right roam.

Boomers and Xers had pretty similar levels of freedom growing up. Kids could safely be out of sight of their parents for long periods of time. Many Xers were Latchkey kids. In contrast, Millennials, due to the technological ease of staying in contact, and changing Parenting norms, often weren’t out of their Parents’ sight until their teenage years.

Millennials also grew up with a lot more encouragement than Xers. And as a result, Millennials generally feel more comfortable voicing their opinion. Even when they just start a job.

For instance, one Millennial I worked with, just got through training, and was asked by a Senior VP what they thought of the training program.

The Millennial, either not knowing or not caring who was asking the question, quickly answered, “It was boring.”

To which the VP replied, “I wrote it.” And then, “Who again, are you?”

So, like Anya Deason writes below, don’t talk too much– until you know what you are talking about, and who you are talking to. Xers tend to believe people need to “pay their dues” before voicing opinions.

A few other tips for working together:

  • Xers tend to be more independent. So, when working with a Xer, don’t be surprised or offended if they choose to work alone.
  • An Xer manager is not going to act like a Helicopter parent. Xers tend to be entrepreneurial thinkers and results-oriented, so they may not tell  you how to do every step of the job.
  • Xers tend to be hands-off, low face-time managers. So when working for an Xer, ask them to clearly define their expectations.
  • Millennials are often cheekily called the “Everybody Gets A Trophy” generation. Few Xers were regularly praised growing up. So, when working with an Xer manager, don’t expect a lot of praise.
  • When you do receive a compliment from an Xer, you’ve done an great job.
  • Don’t take Xers skepticism personally. Xers grew up questioning everything. Expect them to give the pros and the cons to even the best of ideas.

This column first appeared on Quora.

Mira Zaslove is a product manager at Cisco.