Don’t be a Young Professional Stereotype

As young professionals, we face a variety of challenges within the workplace. One particular challenge is coping with the negative image that some older coworkers and superiors may have of young professionals as a group. While every generation entering into the workforce must learn to deal with those who came before, our current collective of YPs and elder workers are facing a particularly difficult period of transition (due mainly to quickly evolving technologies). In a past Notable article we detailed ways to learn patience and understanding for “The Elder” officemate. Today we are focusing on us, and ways in which we can help stop perpetuating this negative impression of the YP workforce. Here are five ways that we call all help stop feeding the stereotype: 

1. Don’t be late!
It’s crazy that we even have to say this, and yet, you know that we do. We’re all guilty of it at some time or another. Being late for work, meetings and social engagements, even just a little bit, is by far the quickest and easiest way to fulfill that role as the disrespectful YP in the minds of older colleagues. Without even saying as much as one word, strolling in late has already created an impression of you upon others. The general opinion regarding tardiness is that when we keep others waiting, we are implying that our time is more important than theirs. In the professional world, that’s about as disrespectful as it gets, so do whatever you need to do to always be on time. 

2. Listen!
Again, this may sound simple, but there is much more to listening than just keeping eye contact and not interrupting. When being advised, instructed, directed or guided by older colleagues and bosses, don’t just nod and await your time to talk. Really listen. One particular complaint that older professionals have of their younger coworkers is that we think we know everything. Sure, we are well educated and confident in our abilities, but nowhere can we learn the work and life experiences that our older coworkers and superiors possess. So show your respect for the trail that they have blazed for us, and listen. 

3. Wait your turn!
One of the worst aspects of our bad rep in the workplace is being thought of as spoiled and entitled. Sure, we grew up in a time when nearly no one failed a grade and every participant got a trophy, but we still know that real success requires real work. Don’t enter into the workforce thinking that your shiny new degree, your keen techy skills, or your 2-5 years experience awards you some golden key to the throne of the company. There are a lot of people who have been doing your job (or some form of it) for much longer than you have. So stop whining “it’s not fair,” keep learning, and wait your turn. 

4. Keep it in your pants! (Your money, that is)
Another facet of the negative YP stereotype is that we lack company loyalty and that we are all about the money. Older generations don’t talk about salaries and spending habits as much as we tend to, and such talk can make others very uncomfortable. Of course money is important to us, as it is to every employee age group, but it’s not necessarily our primary reason for doing our job. So to stop adding to impression that YP workers will leave a position at first mention of more money elsewhere, simply avoid those conversations about money (particularly those about the $300 bottle of Moet Rose you bought last weekend). Stick to chatting with older coworkers about your passion for your work and your dedication to your company.  

5. Get to work!
Finally, and most importantly, the best way we can counteract the negative YP stereotype is to simply do our jobs and do them well. Being thought of as lazy tops the list of ill-reputed YP characteristics, but the truth is, we are . . . well, just a bit. To clarify, it’s not really that we are lazy; rather, we are a generation of workers that knows the incredible importance of the work/life balance. We are aware of the dangerous effects of burnout and so we really value our personal and social time for relaxation and enjoyment of life. That said, the workplace is made up of many older employees who were raised in a different time with different ideals (“live to work” vs. “work to live”), and we must remain cognizant of, and sensitive to, these varying mentalities. Overall, when it comes to being successful as a young professional, we must work hard to be just that, professional – and the best way to showcase that professionalism to all of our fellow workmates is to just get to work. Period.

Photo: Workaholics