When I started working at my main job, I was fresh out of college, younger than some of the interns, and perpetually worried about being taken seriously. So I made sure to dress a little more formally than I had to, kept my long hair up in a severe-looking bun, and was extra-careful about my work. But still, if I had a dollar for every time an older coworker asked me to copy, collate, or fetch something for them that first year, my 401(k) would be a whole lot bigger than it is now.
I remember a coworker who, back in the mid-1990s, told me that I reminded him of all the women who wouldn’t date him when he was in college and treated me accordingly. Others asked me how I’d managed to get hired so young (no, nepotism was not involved, though hard work and luck and good advice were). I’d cringe a bit whenever someone asked me how old I was, not because it was an inappropriate question (though it is) but because I hated the way anything I did after that would be judged and downgraded.
Excelle has a list of 12 things you should never say to your younger and older coworkers, and while I found myself nodding along in sympathy as I clicked through their advice, I think there are a few tidbits I’d like to add.
1. Don’t judge a coworker by his or her peers. Were you flighty and irresponsible when you were 22? Fine, but that doesn’t mean the new hire is. And just because your mom doesn’t understand email, don’t assume that an employee your mom’s age won’t either.
2. Treat everyone as you’d like to be treated. It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Don’t be condescending, don’t be dismissive, and don’t forget that if you step on anyone on your way up the ladder they can kick you in the head on your way back down.
3. Help people. The new kid isn’t necessarily after your job. And the office veteran isn’t ncessarily looking forward to retirement. Find ways to make yourself valuable to your company instead of withholding your help or support. Even while you’re working together, your coworkers are part of your career network; it’s better to cultivate than it is to alienate the people you work with.
Do you have any stories to share from when you were a young, new employee? How do you wish you had been treated?