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Grow up? No thanks

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Sabrina Zolkifi realises she sometimes struggles to act like an adult, but she isn’t sorry about it at all.

The world wide web and I share many things in common.

We’re often most distracting when you’re at your busiest, we both know a lot of useless facts (there is an average of 178 sesame seeds on a McDonald’s Big Mac bun), and we’re both 25 years old this year.

And while the team I work with is relatively young, sometimes I do feel my age puts me at a slight disadvantage when meeting more senior HR leaders.

Many of the leaders I work with have been in the industry for most of my life. It bothered me more in my first few months on the job than it does now, but it’s still a daily struggle to be taken seriously from time to time… especially if your first contact with me is over the phone, where I can sound like a six-year girl on a sugar high.

Over the years I’ve had to endure bemused smiles as I tried to use – much less pronounce – large technical terms, sat through jokes about how I looked barely old enough to intern, let alone interview their CEO, and hear someone tell me they had a child (or grandchild) my age.

In a bid to overcome all that, I’ve tried everything from dressing like an adult to speaking in a low monotonous voice (that didn’t last for very long) and a slew of other gimmicks.

But the biggest thing I feel has helped me come to terms with the age and experience gap is to simply embrace the Gen Y in me.

Yes, sometimes an inappropriate joke slips out in the middle of a meeting, or maybe I need three weeks off to gallivant around New York to “find myself” (for what it’s worth, I’m still looking) but by balancing Professional Sab with Authentic Sab, I’ve found I can build stronger relationships with those I work with – something that is really important in the nature of my work.

I also decided about two paragraphs ago that I am an expert on this matter, so I have three tips for you to better manage employees who seem too young to be actual professionals.

You can most definitely bribe us with food

Many times, I’ve had managers or colleagues appear at my desk with coffee, a cookie or my favourite pastry. My editor Rebecca Lewis once even turned up with Nutella cake to “support us throughout the day” (she also needed to push my deadline up by a day).

Pro tip: We don’t care if you’re subtle about it or not, and we don’t care what type of food it is. We like being rewarded for our work, we like free food, and so if we can marry those two things together, nobody loses.

We really do love our sleep

I’ve been guilty of oversleeping after a big night out, or just staying in bed for “five more minutes” on a rainy morning, only to jump up in a panic and end up 15 minutes late for a morning meeting. I’m not proud of it, but I can’t help how I’m wired.

Pro tip: Don’t be too particular about tardiness. We might come in late, but we aren’t afraid to put in the long hours – especially when working on a project we’re passionate about. (But if staff are always late, then it might be a good idea to sit them down for a bit of a chat.)

We’re not going to like every aspect of our job, and you’re going to hear about it

At least once a week, Rebecca finds me head in hand on the verge of tears, mumbling either one of two things: “Ugh, why me, why, why, WHY???” or “Do I really have to write this report? Why? I hate writing reports! We have a budget meeting now? Ugh I hate budget meetings!”

Pro tip: Just deal with it. It’ll pass. We’ll write that report and attend that meeting. We just wanted you to know we did it because we had to, not because we wanted to.

So if I were you, I wouldn’t take it personally the next time your Gen Y staff is goofing off. It really not about you, it’s about us.

Image: Shutterstock

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Sabrina Zolkifi
Deputy editor
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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