People have a tendency to label and compartmentalize most aspects of their life, and understandably so. It’s human instinct to want to create order where order does not exist. When it comes to the workplace, though, these labels often create more conflict than they do clarity.
At work, we hope to be judged by our performance and disposition as a teammate. However, the unfortunate reality is that many more factors go into your colleagues’ opinion of you. One factor in particular seems to pain employees across different industries, backgrounds, and demographics -- age. People quickly defer to age when assessing someone’s value in the workplace, creating unnecessary, unjust uphill battles when age simply may have nothing to do with employee performance.
As a young professional, I quickly learned not to disclose my age to people unless directly asked. I saw first-hand the unfair and incorrect assumptions that came with people knowing how young I was -- she’s naive, she won’t understand this concept, she can’t handle big projects, etc. -- and every time I received “OMG, you’re SO young!” as a response to telling people my age, it justified that mentality even further.
It’s not just young professionals that feel this frustration though. Inaccurate assumptions on a person’s worth happen across the age spectrum. To better understand the challenges today’s workforce faces with this issue, I (of course) took to Twitter.
While my following does skew younger, I received feedback from people who are a range of ages. Across all of the responses, this theme stood out.
Age ≠ Ability.
This was a frustration voiced by people closer to my age and industry veterans alike. Both younger and older professionals feel that they are constantly fighting to prove their knowledge to their counterparts, despite their age. For younger employees, this comes in the form of breaking the expectation that, because they are young, they cannot offer the same kind of expertise. For those who’ve been in the workforce for many years, their qualms stemmed from younger employees discrediting their knowledge of newer concepts and technologies.
Whether you relate to the former or the latter of those troubles, we can all agree that one’s age does not dictate their ability as a colleague, manager, supervisor, or general professional. Maybe they participated in an internship that propelled their career. Perhaps they spend time after hours working towards or certificate to refine their skills. Or maybe they just know their stuff (crazy, right?). While on the surface it may appear as if someone has less experience or education in a certain area, it is not anybody’s job to be the judge of that.
Here’s the bottom line. Nobody likes to be labeled as something that they would never label themselves as. As professionals, we have the power -- and frankly, the responsibility -- to give our fellow colleagues the opportunity to allow their work to speak for itself. If you find yourself defining unfair expectations of your coworker based off of their age, check yourself, take a step back, and put yourself into an objective mindset. Doing this can help develop a healthy working relationship going forward.