Are your work habits making you look old?

A new book, "How Not to Act Old," by Pamela Redmond Satran is climbing the ranks of the Amazon humor section. I've read it and like most humor, there's a lot of truth behind its snarky advice and tips for middled aged folks who are starting to feel like they "just don't get those young people." Satran dissects and contrasts the habits of the old (basically, anyone over 40) with those of their children (or those young enough to be their children) decoding everything from the way different groups use technology (old people leave voicemails; young people assume people will see a missed call and return it), to the way they use language (old people smoke pot; young people call it weed); and even attitudes towards bikini waxing (fodder for a whole mini chapter).

As someone who has been working long enough to remember wearing pantyhose to my first two jobs as a lawyer (yes, I'm that old) and who now wonders whether I can get away with wearing leggings to a professional event, I appreciated Satran's take on how not to act old at work.

I asked her for some customized tips for readers who want to appear a little younger in their use of technology in their careers. Here's what she had to say:



Don't use your corporate head shot, or go without a photo, on Facebook and other social networks.


Social networking sites, even when they're professionally oriented, are the digital equivalent of the company picnic: You need to show up, yet in an appropriate-yet-relaxed way. That means no still corporate head shots, no pictures of your kids instead of you, and no default silhouettes because you couldn't figure out how to upload a photo.

Don't tweet your breakfast bagel.

If you've figured out Twitter - and really, anyone with the brains of a bird can do it - you need to learn to navigate the line between personal and professional. That means not tweeting what you ate for breakfast today. And it also means not issuing incessant promotions for your own company or project. Rather, let people in on your inspirations, discoveries, connections.

Don't mistake your friends for your friends.

There's a temptation to feel that, just because someone is your facebook friend, you can IM them, or send them a bouquet of virtual flowers, or call them on the phone and ask for professional advice. Uh…..no. Being facebook friends with someone you only know professionally is like meeting at a work event, shaking hands, and moving on. It opens the door to, oh, messaging them once or twice a year on a work-related matter, not to commenting on their vacation pictures or inviting them to take quizzes on which BadAss Historical Figure they are.

Cut that email.

While email tends to be old per se, it's a fact of professional life. But do not, unless instructed to do so specifically by your boss, send any email longer than a paragraph or two. Everyone gets so many emails these days, it's overwhelming to read something long, much less be expected to answer in kind. And anything really important gets done by IM, texting, or - really high tech - a phone call.

Don't leave voice mails.

Many businesspeople under 40 have officially stopped listening to their voice mail. Instead, they consult their call log, call back anyone they know or who seems intriguing, and figure everybody else will follow up through another digital avenue if it's really important. A voice mail, young people say, is almost by definition something you don't want to listen to: Information too complex or charged to be set down in an email, but not so sensitive it has to be delivered in person. In other words, it's your mom-equivalent calling.

Don't fear the reader.

How do you keep up on news from all your favorite sites and professional sources? Bookmarking or relying on email updates is old; aggregating them in a Reader like Google's is the way most people under 35 do it. Go to google.com/reader/ and make yourself sit through the 15-second instructional video, then add your favorite sites to the Reader - or let it search for relevant sources - and keep up with everything relevant to you in one place. {Note from Marci - you can do the same thing on your My Yahoo! page.}

Don't ask your 24-year old colleague for help

Sure, they can probably do that thing you've been struggling over for hours in a couple of seconds, while also brewing a latte and practicing Bikram yoga. But the smart thing to do is press the help button or even consult some tech forums first. Difficult, maybe, for a generation resistant to reading the directions, but not only will it help you save major face in front of your younger colleagues, but it will help you master whatever task is bedeviling you. And that, as they say, is priceless.

What's your take? Anyone in the over-40 set relate to these situations? Anyone in the younger crowd tired of seeing your older colleagues (or your parents) doing these things?