A demand for social media skills is bringing younger people into the workplace, often straight from school. When managed badly it can create resentment amongst older colleagues – but when the age divide is bridged successfully, it can also lead to a win-win situation.
“It was quite scary knowing that I had so little experience,” admits Kirsty Sheppard, “telling people older than me what they should be doing.”
Kirsty is 18, fresh from her A-Levels and the newest recruit to Burstimo in Royston, Hertfordshire. It’s a small digital agency that promotes musicians on platforms like Spotify and TikTok.
Within the first week Kirsty had proven her worth, says Alex Jobling, 30, the boss who hired her.
She wrote some copy for an advert on Facebook, he remembers. It surprised everyone because she wrote the whole thing in lower case.
“I thought I’d hired someone who didn’t understand grammar,” confesses Alex.
But then Alex saw the results.
“It was so engaging, it was the best performing advert we’d done,” he says.
It was just the way she and her friends would have written it, it seemed so obvious, says Kirsty.
This is exactly why the company needs such a young recruit, explains Alex, because only they can provide an authentic voice on social media.
Kirsty is a trusted voice in the team and she plays her full part in meetings, as well as dealing with clients.
Her case is by no means unique.
Businesses that are keen to harness the opportunities of social media and reach young people, are either giving new roles to their existing young employees, or hiring new young talent.
“Many businesses are starting to utilise the services of digital natives,” says David Taylor, a digital consultant with DNAsix, who has worked with businesses around the UK.
He’s seen a commercial property firm hand the keys of their social media accounts over to a young secretary, realising she had the right skills to handle their online presence in her downtime.
He’s also visited a motorbike insurance company where a young call-handler was turned into a resident YouTuber, with a custom studio built in the corner for him.
Theo Meddelton was hired by a public relations company based in Bournemouth last year, when he was 19. He had just completed A-levels and a digital apprenticeship,
His mission was to bring digital skills to the team, which included people in their 50s and 60s, explains Darren Northeast, who hired him.
One of those people was Charlie Rose, who is in her late fifties. She admits she needed his help.
“My notepad and pen is like my comfort blanket, I take it everywhere I go”, she says.
Theo brought Charlie and the team up to speed with skills like finding social media influencers, using Google analytics and social media tools like Hootsuite.
He was so successful he was swiftly promoted to operations manager.
However, young digital natives also need to be taught some skills too. It has to be a “two-way street”, says David Taylor.
“It’s like there’s a generation growing up wired entirely differently.
“Despite being obsessed with their phones, they are very uncomfortable actually talking on them, they prefer to message. They are not good at making eye contact. They are also not particularly good at presenting, is the feedback I’m getting.”
Alex Jobling of Burstimo admits he has had to step in occasionally when the soft skills are lacking. He intervened when Kirsty began composing an email to a new client, beginning with an informal “hiya”.
Another issue that can rear its head is resentment from older colleagues. Some can be uncomfortable following advice – or indeed taking orders – from people much younger than them.
Age, after all, usually equals seniority in the workplace.
Charlie Rose in Bournemouth admits it was difficult to accept Theo would be in a management position over her, after he was promoted.
“That took some real adjusting on my behalf,” she says. “He’s younger than my younger son, I was working before he was born.”
Managing age differences at work
- Be ready to be open about the age difference if people are comfortable talking about it
- Embrace that this is a two-way street where you can learn from each other
- Young managers may need extra support from their own managers
- Older managers may need to step in to offer support when it comes to soft skills, like dealing with clients
The pair agree that the key to building a successful relationship is in acknowledging the age gap and using it as a chance to learn from each other.
Charlie has vast experience in the charity sector and I’ve learned a lot from her about that, says Theo.
Charlie says Theo has taught her to write in a more snappy way for social media – though she won’t get rid of her notepad and pen.
In modern British society, young and old are increasingly segregated, several reports have shown.
Research has found that people are in fact more likely to cross the age divide in their workplace than their own neighbourhoods, according to Andrew Dixon, who helped to write the Social Mixing report for The Challenge organisation last year on this subject.
“Outside your own family, the workplace is perhaps the best place to meet people of a different generation to you. It can also be a place where people of different ages make meaningful bonds.”
It’s a sentiment that Charlie agrees with: “There’s prejudice from both ends of the spectrum in society,” she says.
“You can be ageist because someone’s too young, or because they are too old. I think we all get too hung up on age.”
Follow Dougal on Twitter:@dougalshawbbc
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