How To Work With Your Millennial Coworkers Without Feeling Like Their Grandma

by Janel Mills
Originally Published: 

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I work with two people who are in their early- to mid-20s. They are great! They are funny! But, they are baby adults. They do not “keep me young,” because this is what middle-aged women who are in denial about their age like to say while wearing midriff tops, listening to music they shouldn’t even know exists and using phrases like “on fleek.”

Working with someone a decade or more younger than you can actually have the opposite effect, making you feel old and confused. I end up giving mine the side-eye at least once a day for one reason or another. Once you start secretly Googling any aspect of their conversation after they leave the room, you might as well just pack up your shit and take the rest of the day off, because things can only go downhill from there.

In order to survive working with my generally delightful yet very young coworkers and avoid spending my daily commute cry-driving while listening to the ’90s station on satellite radio in my minivan, I’ve figured out a few key conversation topics and references to avoid when working with this particular species:

1. Don’t talk about the year something happened. This may be difficult, because, as my fellow True Detective fans already know, time is a flat circle, and Millennials can be assholes. Your goal is to avoid exchanges centered around describing what you were doing during a particular year. Hearing their astonishment (“1998?! I was in preschool in 1998!”) is just going to make you feel stabby. Stabby is not good at work.

2. Reboots are not your friend. Listen, we can all enjoy Jurassic World together and even compare it to the original movie, but do not stray from that. Stick to the material of the movie and not how your experience of the movie has changed. For example, starting a conversation with, “When I saw Jurassic Park for the first time…” is a bad idea, because the odds are good that you were a living, breathing person in 1993, capable of remembering the film and having an opinion. Your coworker, however, was probably not a person at all in 1993 or, at the very least, wasn’t wearing pants with real zippers yet. Hearing the “I was three years old in 1993!” and knowing you had just been dumped by your first boyfriend in 1993 because he found out about your Beanie Baby collection won’t make you want to continue the conversation (or any conversation, really) with that person.

3. Keep conversation topics about technology current. If it wasn’t invented within the last five years, don’t mention it. Pretend like you never used it while you were an office assistant in junior high. I guarantee you, your coworkers never knew the agony of wondering whether or not the fax you just sent actually went through or not. Swooping in and showing your coworkers how to use the fax machine on the one occasion that it needs to be dusted off and operated will not make you look cool, either. It will make you look old. Really, really old.

4. Websites go in and out of style. Did you know this? I mean, I’m aware that having an AOL email or a profile on MySpace brands you as technologically impaired, but it goes beyond that. The websites that formed the backbone of information finding on the Internet for you are no longer cool. There’s no real way to avoid this, actually. I just want to make sure you’re prepared when you pull up MapQuest on the computer to get directions, and your coworkers laugh in your face when they find out that you still use MapQuest, not that this has happened to me or anyone I know.

5. Movies. Just don’t. If you’re not discussing a brand-new movie, just move on. They haven’t seen the movies you consider sacred. Trust me. This is hard to avoid, I know. You’ll try to stick to this rule, but then you’ll start to feel comfortable, and one day you’ll celebrate a small victory by saying, “Excellent!” and playing air guitar and realize nobody gets your reference because nobody else has seen Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. This will lead to a never-ending spiral of you asking them, “Have you seen [indispensable film from your youth]?” followed by blank stares and shaking of heads and you steadily fighting back the urge to weep for the next generation.

In general, if you can stick to these guidelines, I think you’ll find that Millennials are generally delightful people to work with. I know they have a reputation for having poor social skills and not being the most proactive generation we’ve ever seen, but I would disagree with that sentiment entirely. Just yesterday, one of my coworkers showed how proactive she could be when she spotted a stray clothing string in my hair and took it upon herself to pluck it out.

The fact that things got super awkward after we realized she was pulling on a gray hair definitely wasn’t her fault at all.

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