contentsGOA IL Chamberads

The Baby Boomers and Millennials Working Together

Why is it that a Millennial will show up for a business meeting in jeans and a sweatshirt and a Baby Boomer will consider their dress to be disrespectful?

And why do Generation Xers distrust the motives of an employer who isn’t brutally honest in his or her criticism during a performance evaluation while many Baby Boomers are crushed by such harsh discussions?

Have you ever noticed that Baby Boomers thrive in brainstorming, teamwork situations while Generation Xers often prefer to communicate by email or voicemail because they don’t feel the need for face-to-face communication?

Today’s workplace has evolved into a bit of a generational stew of Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials.

Each generation of workers tends to exhibit its own unique work style, needs and attitudes – which can clash with the work styles, needs and attitudes of other generations. When all of these people need to work alongside one another, it can present a challenge to managers to get the best work product from all of them and, at the same time, to maintain a workplace that is sensitive to everyone, according to Lauren Soderstrom, an organizational development specialist and trainer with The Management Association, based in Downers Grove.

What is a generation and why do people within it exhibit similar traits?

A generation is not defined by a particular number of years. It is defined by world events that occur when children of a certain time period are in their formative years. Those events tend to program a group of people’s attitudes and behavior, Soderstrom said.

For instance, Baby Boomers’ formative years saw the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, the moon landing and the Vietnam War.

As a result, people in that generation value involvement, personal growth, self-expression and the environment and when they are in a workplace, they tend to work very hard for long hours, Soderstrom explained.

They like to work as a team and want to be appreciated for their work. In fact, they heavily identify with what they do. For them, it is not so much what work they do, but how well they accomplish that work.

Generation Xers, on the other hand, saw Three Mile Island, Watergate, the presidency of Richard Nixon and the Fall of the Berlin Wall during their formative years. They were also a generation of latchkey kids whose mothers went into the workforce and often left them to fend for themselves after school.

Thanks to all of these circumstances during their formative years, Generation Xers, Soderstrom has found, are very independent, self-reliant and clever. They tend to be cynical; not trust authority; and only give respect once it has been earned. They hate being micro-managed and are comfortable with ambiguity. They learn quickly, are comfortable with technology and tend to embrace diversity.

Millennials are unlike either of the preceding generations. While many perceive them as entitled calling them the trophy generation, Soderstrom contends that may not be a fair assessment. Millennial generation began graduating from college in 2002 in the midst of the last recession, and many of them saw their parents losing jobs that they had had for 20 years. The era of job security had passed. This combined with their own struggles to find employment have led many Millennials to constantly add skills to their resume. While this eagerness to gain skills has been interpreted as being excessively ambitious, Soderstrom believes it may instead be an attempt to gain marketable skills should they find themselves out of a job in the future.

These workers experienced the Columbine school massacre, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the fall of Enron, the rise of technology and the recent recession. They also spent their after-school hours in after-school care programs and tend to be very social.

Consequently, Millennials are extremely tolerant of diversity because they have all been connected to the entire world through social media. They are also confident about their abilities “because their parents spent a lot of time telling them how wonderful they are,” Soderstrom quipped, and also because they have seen members of their generation, like Mark Zuckerberg, succeed at a young age. Thanks to the recession, however, they embrace any chance to enhance their professional skills because they worry about future lay-offs and want to be prepared. That is probably also why they are marrying later.

“Millennials want to become successful, but they don’t necessarily define success in the same way that those in other generations have. They feel that they are successful if they are enjoying life,” Soderstrom explained. “They see working as a way to find personal fulfillment. So their occupation needs to ‘speak’ to them and be in line with their personal values. They do not, however, identify with any job in the way that the Baby Boomers do.”

This group of workers is very comfortable sharing their opinions with people in authority and they want to be respected for the talents they are bringing to the table. As for their clothing, they feel that an employer should want them for their brain, not their suit.

How does an employer successfully juggle generational work styles and attitudes?

“It isn’t as difficult to get the different generations to work together as many fear,” Soderstrom stated. “Everyone wants to contribute. Everyone wants a good work environment that is flexible and they want career development. Employers can build on what workers across the generations have in common without ignoring their differences.”

“Once you understand where each group is coming from, it is easy to make it work for the benefit of your business,” she continued.

Millennials, she has found, are looking for mentorship. And Baby Boomers, by their nature, enjoy mentoring. And since Millennials are a fairly optimistic group that likes to be positive, Baby Boomers’ style works well with them, when the Boomers are able to look beyond the Millennials’ more casual approach to work.

On the flip side, Millennials are usually much more comfortable with technology than Baby Boomers, so the elder group can turn to the “young pups” for assistance in this realm.

Neither Baby Boomers nor Millennials appreciate negative feedback or sarcasm, which Generation Xers tend to embrace. Therefore, employers need to try to convey a straight message to employees that is balanced with positive feedback in order to give every generation what they need.

“There is the potential to take advantage of big opportunities with a multi-generational workforce if everyone works to communicate effectively and keep in mind each individual’s personal and generational traits. Employers and managers need to work to be adaptable; have empathy; and communicate differently, depending on what each situation requires,” Soderstrom added.

Employers who mix the generations well will find themselves with a savory “stew” where each ingredient retains its individual flavor while also contributing to the delectable taste of the whole dish.

previous topic
next topic
Town Square Publications