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Generations at Work Should Work Together


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Throughout my young adult life, I have often found myself facing one professional predicament over and over again- people always mistake me for being years younger than I am. Though it is true that I am not the oldest or most tenured of my coworkers, I am also not the youngest. I fall into a range I affectionately call “Closer-to-30-than-20”, which I coined out of necessity when I had someone, once again, tell me I didn’t look old enough to [be married/have gone to graduate school/rent a car]. You get the idea.

During my time working for a high fashion retailer in Central Indiana, I have become increasingly aware of the unique challenges that each generation of sales associates face in regards to their age and the way it is perceived, both by the general public and by peers.

Generations at Work
© Flickr User environment

In my own experience, I find that looking younger than my age can be more of a curse than a blessing. I often feel that my credibility is being called into question, despite the fact that I am highly qualified and very knowledgeable. I have even had a client (who happened to be an older woman) tell me she wanted an “expert” while speaking to me, with the clear implication that I was not the expert she was seeking. As someone who takes pride and ownership of their work, it is disheartening that I am somehow being undermined by a factor I have no control over.

One might think, then, that a more seasoned associate would feel confident in knowing that they are perceived as experts in their field. Instead, I often hear my older coworkers talking about their fears of becoming irrelevant. Many of these ladies have spent their entire lives working in this industry, and instead of perceiving themselves as experts, they are becoming increasingly concerned that younger associates are pushing them out of their positions.

High Fashion
© Flickr User tweng

Unfortunately, their fears are not altogether unfounded. While I have not personally witnessed obvious ageism in the workplace, some of the current selling strategies clearly favor younger associates. With many retailers putting a strong focus on utilizing technology and social media, both on the sales floor and behind the scenes, older associates often find it difficult to adapt. Whenever a new strategy is implemented or a tech issue arises, I often find that any assistance I offer is met more with tension than gratitude. It is as though my knowledge and ease with a computer somehow poses a threat or makes them seem less competent.

Obviously that couldn’t be farther from the truth. These ladies are a wealth of knowledge, and I learn vital, valuable information from them every day. Sure, I can navigate social media and order something from a website faster and more comfortably than they can, but I don’t have the 10 to 20 years of experience working with the consumers of Central Indiana that they have. I feel that I owe a great deal of my success to the lessons I have learned from my more seasoned coworkers.

While it cannot be disputed that each generation faces their own set of age-related challenges, I feel that our differences actually provide a stronger, more diverse workforce. By taking the time to listen and learn from one another and offer our unique skill sets, we are able to create a work environment in which everyone benefits.

Shila Amore loves fashion, reading, Starbucks chai lattes, and helping customers make smart choices. She lives in Indianapolis.

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Tue, January 6 2015 » Corporate Culture, Leadership, Self Development

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