The Difference Between Rookies and Veterans at Work

By Tim Elmore

Do you see stereotypes at work today? You know what I mean, don’t you? On the one hand, Millennials and Gen Zers assume that Baby Boomers are just “out of touch with reality.” On the other, we hear Gen Xers and Boomers assuming all young people are entitled and narcissistic. =

Stereotypes exist for a reason, but far too often, it is an uninformed reason.

Truth be told, the workplace is in flux regarding old and young. Young professionals are leapfrogging older generations in promotions and raises as they bring with them an innovative spirit and intuition on where society is going. They seem to understand how to market to the new customer. At the same time, the workforce is aging, as folks are living longer and staying in their careers believing they can’t afford to retire. By 2030, people aged sixty-five and older will outnumber those under the age of eighteen for the first time in U.S. history. 

So how does this affect us at work?

Houston, We Have a Barrier

Intergenerational teams represent a leadership paradox. Miami professor Megan Gerhardt writes, “They can be an utter disaster, or they can be a transformational breakthrough in the diversity of thought depending on how these teams are led and managed.” 

Because our population has found age-niches, we all feel we “get it” more than others. Media studies professor and author Jib Fowles coined the term “chronocentricism”—which means that members of each generation possess a set of comfortable norms about what’s “right,” just as people do regarding their home culture. Associating what is familiar with what is right and the unfamiliar as wrong is a deeply ingrained human tendency. And demanding others to change is creating major barriers today. 

So, allow me to bridge some of these barriers by exposing what I’ve heard from older and younger generations about “right” and “wrong” at work. This may just shed light on your perspective and spark conversation between generations on your team.


Older leaders often feel the younger generations haven’t taken the time to investigate relevant organizational history and context before presenting new ideas.

Younger generations often feel the older veterans only want to approve a “facelift” to current methods rather than the “overhaul” they see needs to happen. 

Young teammates—listen to gain context. Older people—be open to fundamental changes.


Older leaders feel team members who are on their phones during a meeting must be distracted by outside issues or even by social media posts.

Younger leaders assume everyone knows their portable devices are the very tool they use to stay engaged, take notes, and record ideas in those meetings. 

Young teammates—look up and give your leaders eye contact. Older teammates—trust that phones and tablets are being used for the work at hand. 


Older leaders don’t know why younger generations don’t want to communicate face-to-face or even by phone conversation on important issues.

Younger leaders feel older generations don’t realize the world now expedites communication by using text messages and social media platforms to communicate at work. 

Young teammates—do the social and emotional work of in-person conversation. Older teammates—allow for young teammates to leverage screens to accelerate communication.


Older leaders wonder why their offer of a corner office and a new title didn’t elicit genuine gratitude from younger leaders as a promotion. 

Younger leaders don’t understand why older generations are into titles when what they want is more PTO, flexibility, and autonomy on the job. 

Young teammates—recognize the motives of seasoned veterans who want to affirm you but may use methods that feel outdated. Older teammates—learn the love-language of the young. 


Older leaders feel younger generations often act like fragile “snowflakes” when they require trigger warnings in candid conversation during meetings. 

Younger generations can’t believe older leaders aren’t more sensitive and respectful to others who are deeply offended and require empathy from them. 

We must commit ourselves to honor each other. Frequently, older leaders can’t believe young generations don’t show more respect, as they blurt out new ideas without paying their dues and don’t consider why the current ideas are in place. Younger generations can’t believe older leaders don’t exhibit more respect to them, since everyone is equal and should have a voice, without having to “pay their dues.”

What if Chip Conley was right? Chip is an Airbnb executive and author who believes every work team has modern elders and digital sages. He believes older generations can exchange their emotional intelligence for the digital intelligence more inherent to younger employees. 

The bottom line? Let’s meet in the middle. We must demonstrate honor and respect. The path to those is paved with understanding and recognition. Let’s practice this. 

Good news: We now have an event that covers this topic for school campuses, as well as a new book coming out October 25th, entitled: A New Kind of Diversity: Making the Different Generations on Your Team a Competitive Advantage. If you are a current partner of Growing Leaders and you are interested in hosting A New Kind of Diversity Event, please email [email protected]. If you are not, please complete this registration form (have the link directly to the intake form). To pre-order the book, visit:

The Difference Between Rookies and Veterans at Work