Let’s be honest: being a millennial is no easy feat. And being a millennial in the workplace can be even harder. Whether we’re battling impostor syndrome, saving to buy a home as housing prices continue to rise, or just landing jobs that allow us to start paying off our student loans, the day-to-day can definitely feel like a grind.
Don’t get me wrong: every generation has its fair share of struggles. But for some reason, millennials also receive a ton of flack about our work ethic and reliability from Boomers (ages 54 to 72) and Gen X’rs (ages 37 to 52).
I’ve personally experienced more than my fair share of micro-aggressions as the youngest person in my office. I’ve gotten some straight-up ageist comments, like being asked if I was old enough to be drinking at the holiday party or receiving emails from bosses that start with “Hey kid,” despite being old enough to have more than one of my own. And I’ve also received some millennial-specific digs, like repeatedly being told that I couldn’t always have things my way after I’ve asked for constructive feedback or having my digital writing experience undermined by older print editors.
There are a few common myths about millennials in the workplace, like we want a pat on the back every time we do something right, we’re digital addicts, and we’re not loyal to our employers. In fact, a 2015 IBM study uncovered that millennials value workplaces that are ethical and fair over ones where they’re constantly praised and that they prefer to learn new skills offline.
As for being lazy and entitled? A study by Project:Time Off found that millennials are actually workaholics—and the age group most likely not to use all of its vacation days. One of the reasons we’re digital addicts is because we constantly use our phones and computers for work.
Even so, many millennials feel we need to prove we’re more than just the year we were born to older colleagues. That striving can lead to burnout and resentment. Before you get to that point, here are a few tips on how to cope with being the youngest face around the metaphorical water cooler.
Carefully prepare your pitches
Baby Boomers’ biggest fear is being displaced by younger employees and new ways of doing things, according to Phyllis Weiss Haserot’s book You Can’t Google It! The Compelling Case for Cross-Generational Conversation at Work. Knowing this might make you want to hold back from sharing your ideas, hesitant to step on anyone’s toes. But instead of shrinking, ask your boss what the best way to communicate your ideas to them would be, suggests Rachel Ritlop, founder of The Confused Millennial, a blog dedicated to helping millennials navigate everyday life. “That way you aren’t catching them off guard and getting shot down because it’s the wrong time or place,” she says.
Get clear on the company’s values and speak to them
If you want to stand out and not be seen as the “baby,” it’s going to be important to speak to the company’s bottom line and values. That will also help you combat the idea that millennials are overly-idealistic and not grounded. “By speaking directly to what the company deems important, you’ll show yourself as a forward thinker and, ultimately, a leader,” Ritlop says. “You can have passionate ideas you want to run with, but you have to always tie those back to what your employer cares about so they know you’ve fully thought things through.”
Give technology an occasional break
Millennials are associated with social media, instant messaging, texting, and all things technology. But getting more facetime in is an easy adjustment to make, according to Devay Campbell, a career coach and certified HR Professional. “Be sure to take the time to have face-to-face conversations or pick up the phone,” she says. “This will help you build rapport and trust in the workplace with your coworkers in different generations.”
Take criticism and feedback as a part of the progress of growing
Go high, even when you’re feeling low. “When it’s time to receive feedback, accept it graciously and look at it as a chance to improve,” Campbell says. “Listen and, if you must respond, do so in a non-confrontational manner.”
At the end of the day, just do the work
In the words of Steve Martin, be so good they can’t ignore you—or discredit you because of your age. Look for opportunities to shine, volunteer for projects and committees, and don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get the job done, Campbell says. Dispelling the “lazy” narrative from the jump will get you the respect you want sooner than later.
Sure, these tips may not be able to stop your older colleagues from cracking jokes at your expense or constantly asking you for social media tips, but making a few simple tweaks could be the difference between feeling like an outsider and finding your place in the team.