A friend for whom I bought a badly needed martini told me her story. At a recent company-wide meeting she’d arrived late. She looked for her team — all thirtysomethings. They were at one table but hadn’t saved a seat for her! She ended up in a different part of the room with another team. When she meets one or more of them in the cafeteria, they never ask her to join them for lunch. In twos and threes they pick an isolated table and talk earnestly. “I have to take it personally,” she said. “They really don’t like me.”
If you find her response inexplicable and extreme you are not a Boomer. Boomers understand that if your team doesn’t care about your company they are telling you that they don’t like you. But, as I tried to explain to my friend, there is a totally different interpretation to what feels like dislike.
1. The team is all about business. Nothing is personal. If you suggested you liked/disliked any one of them it would be a shock. They are rushing to get the work done so they can leave. They have no time for random socializing. They know they shouldn’t check email during work hours so lunches let them keep in touch and surf. This doesn’t offend people their age but they fear you might expect them to chat.
2. They don’t want to know you any better than they already do. They are passing through on the way to a better job or self employment. Emotional detachment is important to them. If someone gets a better job after a few months and leaves it doesn’t induce guilt unless you and that person have a personal relationship.
3. Bonding is a concept they neither accept or understand. “How,” one asked, “does a personal relationship improve the quality of my work? Does that mean the boss won’t point out errors?” The idea that work is a form of social interaction is foreign. Clients must be catered to and treated as friends but why a boss?
4. Are you and they really a team? Just because they do what you ask and cooperate with you and others doesn’t mean they believe a team exists. Management uses all kinds of words which mean nothing.
It becomes a generational divide when attitudes are more important than results. Boomers have always wanted their direct reports to be eager and emotionally committed to getting the result. For Boomers, if you didn’t exhibit the expected attitudes you wouldn’t move ahead because the boss didn’t like you. Nobody under 35, especially those working in IT, can fathom that attitude. They have been steeped in the idea that only results count. The first confrontation with a more nuanced rating system is confusing and frightening.
None of this is comfort to the Boomer who feels unwanted. However, rather than attempt to win over people who can’t be, wouldn’t adjusting Boomer expectations be a better strategy? I bought my friend another martini — to ease the reality.
Curious about the opposite? See the Boomer’s perspective on the generational divide: “I don’t like them either.”
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