Second-guessing the advice columns: Get off my lawn!

October 8th, 2019

Robin Shea at Constangy


Second-guessing the advice columns: Get off my lawn!

Millennials, can you relate to your older co-workers?

Everybody and their dog has workshops these days on how older workers should relate to Millennials. That's a fine idea, but does anyone ever offer a workshop to Millennials on how to relate to their older co-workers?

I'm wondering this after seeing a recent "Work Advice" column by Karla Miller of the Washington Post:

I am an older woman working in a field among predominantly younger workers and would love insight on how to deal with frequent references to my age. I love what I do and have much to contribute, but the comments are starting to wear on me.

As an example, at a recent conference when I was about to make a presentation, a younger colleague twice made reference to the fact that I had my notes on 5 x 7 rather than 3 x 5 note cards, saying, "Guess that's what you gotta do when you get old."

This individual thought she was being funny and wanted to make sure everyone heard the "joke." I said nothing, but it pushed all my self-doubt buttons, and I gave a substandard presentation.

I understand I could simply ignore such comments. But what I'd love is a simple, honest, thoughtful response — not snarky or confrontational, because I don't think that would stop future comments, but a way to educate the colleague on how inappropriate and harmful these "jokes" are.

Needless to say, Karla didn't approve of the youngster's behavior, and neither do I. 

Kids, we love you and want you to succeed. We understand you don't mean any harm. We also understand that you are new to the workplace and probably don't know all the rules yet. In that spirit, here are a few things you need to know:

There's, like, this federal law? Called the Age Discrimination in Employment Act? Under federal law, it's illegal to discriminate against anyone 40 or older because of their age. (Most states have their own age discrimination laws, too.) Constant remarks or even jokes about a person's age can be evidence of age discrimination and can even be considered age-based harassment in violation of the ADEA and state law. Trust me, you don't want to be fired for unlawful harassment when you still have your whole life ahead of you. 

Never tease an older co-worker about her age. Not even if you hear your elders making age-related jokes, and not even if you hear the co-worker calling herself old. It won't be the same coming from you.

Don't stereotype or condescend. Some younger workers assume their older co-workers can't operate a smart phone, don't know social media from a hole in the ground, and wouldn't know a Twitter bird if it bit them on the nose. But did you know that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both born in 1955? (Tim Cook is going on 59, hardly a spring chicken.) Also, if you see your older co-worker doing something "technological" that anybody knows how to do (like texting), don't marvel out loud about how "cool" it is that he can do it.

If you can't resist making age-related jokes, keep these rules in mind. First, while you're young, you can always joke about your own generation. Yes! Joke about how inexperienced and "entitled" you are. (This is an unfair stereotype about young people, but coming from you it will be considered lovable self-deprecating humor.) Second, you can probably get away with teasing someone who is barely older than you are. For example, if you're 29 and a half, and your co-worker just turned 30, go for it. Third, never forget that teasing about age gets less funny based on two variables: (a) The distance between the ages of the Teasor and the Teasee, and (b) the age of the Teasee. See Fig. 1, below:

Be considerate of your co-workers as individuals. Some people are sensitive about their ages, no matter what age they are. Pay attention to that, and if you perceive that your jokes may hurt your co-worker's feelings, then hold your tongue. 

 


This blog was written by Robin Shea at Constangy, which authors our Model Policies and Forms for Georgia Employers and our New Jersey Human Resources Manual. You can find the original on their Employment & Labor Insider blog (which is one of our favorites and is excellent).








Dr. Love(less) he don't need no office life
IA Waterloo - Will Ban the Box be your Waterloo?
Murder by Death
The Royal Tenenbaums
Knives Out
No-match letters – IRS alert or Charles Nelson Reilly game show?
IL Artificial hiring, salary history, required training, etc.
Retaliation (wait . for . it . . . ) is all about the timing
NY Additional workplace protections for victims of domestic violence
Randy Newman, racism and rednecks
Look past the laws (pudding) and understand the regs (Oreo)
NY 11 employment laws you missed if you blinked (not 10)
IL Tidal wave (or tsunami) of new laws for Illinois employers
Make your workplace a SUE-free zone
NY Reporting immigration status can be unneighborly . . . at best
RIF - Reductions In Force Require Initial Fundamentals
"Fat shaming" at work can cost more than money, a lot of money
One step beyond March Madness
Why You Should Care About Employment Law
Workplace Christmas Quiz (this is legit and will secondarily eat up some time before you get to go home)
MeToo, avoiding women, and the modified Mike Pence Rule
Discrimination CHARGE! – Step 3 Cause or no cause, because you gotta do something
Discrimination CHARGE! – Step 2 Go Kim Possible for the investigation phase
Discrimination CHARGE! – Step 1 Don't panic, ask questions
Disability/pregnancy practices – what not to practice
Tourette syndrome, the ADA and racial harassment
If Saint Valentine had a workplace romance policy what would it be
Workplace romance red (heart-shaped) flags
Super Bowl LIII and getting fired from your G.O.A.T.
How to Address an Unflattering Video of an Employee
Holiday party what-would-you-dos
Holiday stew – ingredients for a happy and non-litigious holiday
Swearing at work – 7 rules
NY: Draft model sexual harassment policy/training released
Round up stew: sick leave, harassment, non-compete, etc.
Should you give your employees a little Slack – or do they have enough already?