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Career Q&A | By Liz Reyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Don't assume age is to blame for younger workers' bad behavior

QAs a manager with more than 20 years' experience, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to deal with the aggressively disrespectful way many young employees deal with authority. How much of this is generational? A reflection of my management style? The larger culture that seems to encourage berating anyone you disagree with? What can I do to change the tone in my rather young team?

A: Is it you? Is it them? Maybe both, so make a plan that creates shared standards and builds mutual understanding.

First, address the personal stress that being in a high-conflict workplace has created for you. Build time into your day to recharge — if only for five minutes in a quiet place or through chatting with someone you're comfortable with — so that you don't get overwhelmed. Remember to take deep breaths to stay physically charged.

Then take a calm look at the situation. Do you have a widespread attitude issue, or is it more focused on a small number of individuals or even one individual? After all, anger management problems affect all generations, so extreme cases may not have much to do with generational differences at all.

Evaluate your skills in managing people who have expectations and values that differ from those you were raised with. Consider whether you bring a tone of openness and respect, or whether your approach triggers pushback from younger employees. This will be hard to spot on your own, so find people who can give you feedback. Then listen receptively, even if it's hard to hear.

Finally, set your goal. My hunch is that you're hoping to have a positive, results-focused workplace where people feel satisfied with their chance to make a difference. Focus on what your ideal outcome looks and feels like so that you can unite your team around this vision.

As you set a new course, learn more about the workplace expectations of younger generations. As a group, you'll find that they want meaning in their work, and are collaborative, flexible and used to having their needs addressed. Focus on the benefits that this provides, specifically, the ability to engage them in solving the problems you face in creative and energizing ways.

What does this mean in practice? Consider holding a session where you and your team talk about establishing a healthy and respectful work culture. If you've established that there really is a generational split, be open about that, but in a way that reflects your willingness to adapt. Define the issue as you see it (needing to have a positive tone at work) and your vision for what the workplace should be. Then let the team build a shared vision and steps to get there.

If you have abusive employees, this will not solve your problem. But creating explicit expectations with the team for what is — and is not — acceptable will help you set limits on what will be tolerated, and may help get them out the door if they can't adapt to your expectations.

Build bridges with younger employees without accepting behavior that crosses the line, no matter the age group.

Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.

On the Web

Mixing and Managing Four Generations of Employees:


Generation Y's Workplace Expectations:'s-workplace-expectations/

Managing Across Generations: cross_


Don't assume age is to blame for younger workers' bad behavior 07/28/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 8:35pm]
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