Boomers & Millennials: A Powerful Mix
Boomers and millennials not only come from different decades, they bring their own strengths and experience to the workplace. Each generation has a particular culture, unique work style and their core values differ greatly. When boomers and millennials work side by side, or one acts as supervisor, they can play well together in cross generation teams, learn from one another and invigorate and motivate each other. The key is to know and understand the inner workings and strengths of each group, and encourage them to mentor and teach each other.
The millennials were born between the 1980s and 1990s. They grew up in the digital age and are savvy when it comes to social media, technology and online tactics. Interestingly, they’re primarily the children of the baby boomers
In 2011, the first of the baby boom generation reached what used to be known as retirement age. And for the next 18 years, boomers will be turning 65 at the rate of about 8,000 a day. In 2025, 75% of the workforce will be between the ages of 18 to 30. Many of these potential hires will be in a life stage without spouses, children, established careers and houses and they’ll want a position in a company that provides value and meaning.
The boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. This generation experienced a healthy post-war. The baby boomers dominated the work economy and working 8-5 was an important source of their self worth. In fact, they lived to work and the concept of work life balance was not a possibility, but simply a quaint idea. In today’s workplace, Boomers often expect millennials to work 8-5 as well, this can become a pain point.
Millennials have a workplace style that is vastly different than their predecessors. They grew up protected from failure by over-engaged parents and don’t buy into climbing the corporate ladder and paying their dues’ like boomers. Instead, they value equality over hierarchy and flexible schedules as well as time for personal pursuits. They want to make an impact immediately and have no problem challenging authority or the status quo. Millennials will bring this mindset into leadership and management roles.
Imagine working next to a new hire whose parent you dated or being on a team with your parent’s best friend. It doesn’t have to be awkward. With honest communication and trust, these two vastly different groups can become very effective working together in an environment that is flat and no longer hierarchical. A flat hierarchy is new to baby boomers, but it works when the generations share a focus and sense of purpose.
At the core of the millennial energy is potential:
- Relatively fresh, especially in the working. Millennials haven’t had time to learn what doesn’t work.
- Able to work incredibly hard when they are motivated to do so. Intense focus, long hours, across a range of task domains.
- Intuitively understand technology – they are “digital natives.”
- Want to see the world become a better place for themselves and their future families.
- Want mentors who can guide them and explain what mistakes to avoid to maximize.
At the core of boomer energy is experience, with 42% of them planning to continue working after age 55:
- Intangible wisdom that comes from decades of forming and living through relationships, projects, and experiences.
- Tend to have an uneven relationship with technology, how it works, and what is possible.
- Want to see the world become a better place for their children and grandchildren.
- Want to feel like they have a direct and tangible way to give back and pass along the things they’ve learned.
Millennials who enter the workforce seek a collaborative organization and demand that companies be transparent. They desire a setting where the culture and the work has meaning, and will make working from home the norm. They perform best when they have something to believe in. When an entry level job is positioned as a role that can have an impact and fit into the larger picture, the work becomes valuable in their eyes and they will perform. Embrace their fresh ideas and innovative approaches and include them in brainstorming sessions. They want to be challenged and recognized.
Baby Boomers are goal oriented and seek recognition. They exhibit a strong loyalty to their employers and prefer a consensual leadership style. Boomers prefer face-to-face communication, but to work well with Generation Y they’ll need to adjust their communication style and get social. That includes Facebook posts and Twitter tweets. Who better to help them than Millennials?
Remember, millennials may not have extensive work experience, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t great potential and a terrific fit. Instead of a list of past jobs, look at their life experience. This can be another way to evaluate behavior, values and see how they match up to a job description.
The challenge for Human Resources is to demonstrate a knowledge of what’s important to each generation and a sensitivity to what makes them happy. This will help companies shape a culture that meets the needs of both and capitalizes on their strengths. The result will be improved productivity and collaboration, and in turn, more success for employees and the organization.
United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund: http://www.un.org/staffdevelopment/pdf/Designing%20Recruitment,%20Selection