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Things NEVER to Say to Older Coworkers

I’ll be the first to admit: I’m not always the most sensitive when it comes to older colleagues. I’ve been known to deem certain terms archaic or walk up to the COO of the company and ask “How’s it hanging?” I even told one of my coworkers I was too young to know any Bruce Springsteen songs (not a wise move for someone who works in New Jersey). Whatever the faux pas, one thing is clear: Millennials and baby boomers have their fair share of differences, with communication styles at the top of that list. But with the economy still black-and-blue, they’re inevitably going to have to work together. (Click here to read “Things ‘to’ Say to Younger Coworkers.”)

Here’s a short list of things you should never say to an older colleague:

“I didn’t know you were so old.”

Expressing shock when someone reveals his or her age is not the best way to establish rapport with your older colleagues. Age a sensitive topic, for varying reasons, and you may send a message that’s counter to your intent. Before you gasp or wrinkle your nose, take a step back and think about your intention. If you’re implying the person looks good for his or her age, simply offer the compliment.

“Have you had work done?”

This question is equally offensive across gender and age lines, says Stuart Arnold, chief operating officer at DiversityInc. “[It's] offensive whether you are 25 or 55,” says Arnold. “It implies a person should look a certain way because of his or her age and can be especially damaging for someone who is self-conscious about age.”

“Do you know how to use Excel?”

Contrary to popular belief, older workers are not as a technologically “unplugged” as many people think. In fact, older workers have been using computers (or some form of them) for the past 20 years. “This question implies that older workers are not up-to-date on technological advancements,” says Arnold.


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