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12 things you need to know if you have a Gen X boss

by Yvette Maurice

Gen Y and Gen X don’t always see eye to eye on a lot of things, especially when it comes to communicating in the workplace. Stop playing with your phone for 2 minutes and learn the best ways to get on with the dude who pays your rent.

1. Anti-social? Don’t send an email when your boss’ desk is only a few steps away

It baffles the oldies; Gen Yers will send an email when the person is sitting next to them. Why? If an email is in my inbox, I have a record of it, can flag it, copy it to my calendar and reference it at a later date, but your Gen X boss may want to (shock, horror!) come over to your desk and explain a project to you in person. Are they crazy?

No, it’s just their way of knowing that you understood the project and have had an opportunity to raise any concerns or questions with them in real time.

Many Gen Xers see this as common courtesy and basic etiquette. If you constantly ask simple questions such as “where is this file located?” by email rather than just going and asking in person, they may see you as anti-social, a bit of a weirdo and someone who is trying to avoid contact, or hide. None of those are great qualities for an employee with future career prospects.

2. Pick up the phone, OK?

It’s no secret, Gen Y prefers texting, email and social media to using the phone, but your Gen X boss probably doesn’t. Using the phone makes them feel more connected to you: your Gen X boss might prefer to cut straight to the chase over the phone, rather than going back and forth via email. You may think he/she is a dinosaur, but there was a time before text, and they remember it!

A voice conversation lets people be more ‘real’; it’s harder to form a relationship with someone via email or text, and there are still so many company policies that warn against using it for official requests, such as calling in sick. Be brave – give your Gen X boss a call, but beware; with texting or email you have the option of thinking before you press send, a luxury you don’t have when there’s a real person in real time on the line.

3. Befriend the boss (if you’re game)

You see a friend request from your manager and your heart stops… For years we’ve been told not to friend our bosses on Facebook, but a new study by an American university has found that there are upsides. The study found that many bosses now believed that people seen as integrators can be viewed as having more potential in the workplace, so long as the online exchange is appropriate. Being in touch via Facebook might help you to feel more connected with your boss.

It may not work in all cases. Some managers in the 34-54 age bracket saw Facebook friending as inappropriate because the “asymmetry of hierarchy” in social media made them feel uncomfortable. Gen Yers were also less likely to feel comfortable knowing about the personal lives of their male bosses vs. their female bosses, saying that knowing about their male boss’ personal lives added to the “creep factor”.

“If you friend your boss on Facebook, and then complain about them or share something too personal, they might lose trust in you, not take you seriously and potentially replace you,” notes branding expert Dan Schawbel, CEO of Millennial Branding.

4. Hey tech head

Some Gen Xers feel that when they’re asking for an explanation of something they may not be totally across, that their Gen Y staff are talking to them like they’re idiots. Gen X was one of the most tech-savvy generations, and most of these bosses know a thing or two about new media formats and technology updates.

Gen X may be more slow and careful than Gen Y when trying a new product or platform that is unproven; help them to understand the value. Remember Gen X’s childhood years suffered major social change that eroded their idealism and trust, meaning Gen Xers are the ultimate sceptics.

If your Gen X boss needs help with a technology function that you’re good at, like mail merging their Outlook contacts or validating an Excel spreadsheet, help them out without the patronising explanation. Generation X saw the introduction of the personal computer, the video game and the internet. Just because they don’t use Pinterest or Dropbox doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pitch how it could benefit your company. Just do it without the attitude.

5. Unplug for at least an hour a day

Gen Xers practically invented the more casual workplace. They were the first generation to get rid of the tie, the suit and then to work in jeans (even if it was just on Fridays). But they may not be as casual as you. Xers still remember a time where you had to dress the part to get ahead, and when how you looked, spoke and behaved were real markers of your value as an employee. Don’t show up in sandals.

Gen Xers love team-building stuff, which started to gain popularity in the 80s and 90s when they were newbies. Often these hit the mark, often they don’t. If your boss has organised group personal training or a team-building weekend where you have to make cradles for eggs and throw them off two storey floors – go. Be enthusiastic. It’s their way of trying to reach out to you, so take off your headphones and participate.

6. Give your boss some R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

There is a theory that Gen Y is always questioning the status quo. Gen X (and the Boomers) feel that Ys have been pampered and pushed to achieve, but that they are often impatient and less keen to do long hours and ‘hard work’ (when hard work is measured by billable time at your desk). Gen Y is simply less concerned with titles and tiers of management than Xers and Boomers, and are less long-term career focused.

You still need to give your boss the respect that he or she deserves. Your boss may act like they want to be your equal but they actually need you to know that they are in charge, in subtle ways. Generation X fought against dictatorship and ‘establishments’ in their youth and don’t want to be seen as controlling or domineering, but they don’t want complete hierarchical symmetry either; they still value their big titles.

“Treat them with the respect they deserve and understand that their values around work may be different than yours. Someday you will get to call the shots, but until then you may need to be patient and be respectful of your manager’s desires for your work behavior,” says Adam Rico from workyouenjoy.com. Gen Xers still want the big, corner office because status symbols are still important to them.

7. Email is not dead (yet)

This debate will probably be going on a while. A study done by IT Services Company, Atos, shows that email is becoming more of a burden with people receiving upwards of 200 emails a day, spending 20 hours a week sorting through them, 18% of which is spam. The study also found that online social networking is now more popular than email.

Tim to ditch email? Many Gen Xers say no. Dave Coplin, Gen Xer and Director of Search at Microsoft argues that “when something is particularly important or formal, when you need a simple, common means for attaching content, email is the right tool.”

If it’s a simple request, talk to your Gen X boss in person. If you can, pick up the phone. If you need to track your communication, send an email. Choose your method of communication wisely and don’t fall back on one platform or method of engagement all the time, without questioning yourself whether it’s the best way to get your message across.

8. Women are welcome

The good news about Gen X bosses is that they are a lot less likely to insult employees than their Boomer predecessors and they really do care about gender equality. The bullying behavior of times past is slowly being addressed in the workplace and Gen Xers have been at the head of the battle. Their generation was the first where women joined the workforce alongside the men, in more equal roles.

During their youth, Gen Xers experienced a massive change in gender roles; they are completely at ease with women in positions of power and they have a relaxed attitude to different lifestyle choices compared to the Boomers; but although they are relaxed about different lifestyles, studies have shown that they still notice it, compared to those in Gen Y.

9. Did I do this right? And this… and this?

One of the main differences found in studies, whether you agree with it or not, is that Gen Y employees prefer to be managed and mentored, compared with their Gen X counterparts. Gen X wants to be left alone with a task, rather than seeking feedback and approval. If you find that your boss is not present enough, try to work proactively with them on a half-way scenario, where they give you feedback in a structured way that you can both agree on, such as a weekly catch up or monthly appraisal, rather than constantly blasting them with emails asking them for immediate reassurance or help with content.

Gen Ys love a fast-paced communicative environment, but there is also an idea that Gen Ys are narcissists and need mollycoddling. Make sure your desire for feedback is not seen as neediness, and let your boss know in a structured way what you’ve done and what you’d appreciate feedback on.

10. Don’t sulk

Generation Y is sometimes called ‘Generation Me’, because they can be closed to the needs and feelings of their older (or younger) counterparts. Because of their maturity, Xers are good with basic human skills and are seen as better at managing others. They are more open to communication than the Boomers, and both agree that the Ys had a much easier time at work than they did.

Gen Y can be seen as impatient, and “born with a sense of entitlement” by other gens. Try to foster an open and respectful dialogue with your boss, and learn to listen rather than talk. It works.

11. So why can’t I work from Starbucks at midnight?

The good news is – your boss’ generation invented the work/life balance. Xers have a sturdy work ethic, but they are also strongly committed to their families and expect significant workplace flexibility. Embrace this but don’t take advantage of it. Chair of business coaching firm Vistage, Tim Shaver said that, “Though their moniker is ‘slackers’, Gen X works on average 3 hours-per-week more than employees of comparable age did in 1977.”

Gen Y typically has no expectation of loyalty or a traditional 9-5 job, but your boss still does. Many companies are still lagging behind when it comes to fully embracing flexible working arrangements and this is slowly changing, but the majority of companies are just not there yet.

Miranda Brookins of Demand Media found that “co-workers may become envious if they don’t have the same flexibility, and may question work ethics and the quality of an employee’s work”, leading to friction between team members.

12. The future gens

The workplace is slowly changing, but for now you’ll have to play by some of the old rules, until you are the one sitting in the corner office. With Gen Z now emerging into the workforce the changes are not going to stop.

The key to dealing with the different generations is patience, understanding and a genuine want to get along and work productively. Just think, in 10 years time there could be some upstart Gen Z’er breathing down your neck.

They may have pimples now, but they’re the bosses of tomorrow.

Image by JohnoNolan

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