Millennials vs. Baby Boomers In the Workplace

Generational differences when working a job have always been a challenge, but when it comes to Baby Boomers and Millennials in the workplace, getting them to see eye to eye can be especially difficult.

Baby Boomers and Millennials often have vastly different views of work, which comes through in how they interact. For one thing, many Baby Boomers value a nice paycheck and other compensation while Millennials care more about achieving a good work/life balance. Millennials are very comfortable with technology and expect to use it in the workplace while Baby Boomers can be bewildered by all of the new gadgets. These differences alone can create friction if Baby Boomers hold “entitled” Millennials in contempt and Millennials grow increasingly frustrated with “condescending” boomers.

Daunting as it may seem, getting these two generations to work together is important for the success of any type or size of business. Both groups bring a lot of value to an organization but, more importantly, by 2020, Millennials will make up the lion's share of the workforce. This means that a Baby Boomer manager is going to have to learn how to play nicer with employees who are the same age as the manager's children (or even grandchildren).

Key Takeaways

  • Millennials and Baby Boomers in the workplace may run into many challenges based on their varying approaches to work and existing managerial relationships.
  • Values-wise, Boomers tend to value a stable job and a paycheck, while Millennials are usually seeking a good work/life balance and the opportunity to contribute to a greater good.
  • In order to foster a better working environment, Millennials and Boomers can intentionally increase their empathy for the other group, meeting in the middle of workplace expectations and try things like "reverse mentoring."

Getting Them to Know Each Other

One of the easiest ways to create workplace harmony between Baby Boomers and Millennials is to provide opportunities for them to get to know each other. It's common in workplaces for younger employees to stick together while older, often more senior workers form their own social group. But if both groups have more regular contact, some generational misconceptions will start to evaporate.

A way to do that is through reverse mentoring. In a traditional mentoring situation, the senior (typically older) employee will mentor the new, younger worker. But with reverse mentoring, it's the Millennial who mentors the Baby Boomer, whether it's advising on technical issues or showing them how to make sense of the latest social media hangout. The Baby Boomer certainly can still play a mentor role as well, but try to have them do so in a less formal setting. Creating a two-way street between the generations can lead to greater collaboration.

Create Teams That Represent Everyone

Another way to get Baby Boomers and Millennials on the same page is to create more diverse, multi-generational teams. When like-minded people get together, you tend to wind up with the status quo, while when you blend different ideas and viewpoints, it often produces more innovation. Creating a diverse work team can foster that atmosphere, provided that lines of communication are open between everyone, and that employees work to avoid being condescending if someone from a different generation isn't up to speed on something, whether it's a retirement plan or Twitter. If your company's employees don’t typically work in teams, consider moving around desks and workstations so that Baby Boomers and Millennials become neighbors and, hopefully, start communicating more.

Require Empathy From Bosses 

In many organizations, due to seniority, Baby Boomers are in managerial roles while Millennials work under them. That arrangement often causes strife if the two groups don’t “get" each other. One way to avoid this situation is for Baby Boomer managers to get a better sense of Millennial workers' values and traits and set their expectations accordingly.

So instead of getting frustrated and angry because a Millennial worker prefers to text their boss instead of calling them, the boomer manager should realize that's how the upcoming generation communicates and even admit that, at times, texting can be a more efficient way of communicating than a phone call. The same applies to work/life balance requests. It may annoy the Baby Boomer manager whenever there are requests to work off-site or have Fridays off, and sometimes it simply won't work out. But a manager who accedes to employees' occasional reasonable requests for workplace flexibility can create more harmony than one who digs in their heels and demands "face time" at office desks.

The Bottom Line

Good relationships in a work environment can be difficult to achieve, even if everyone is part of the same generation. So when you mix Baby Boomers and Millennials, sparks can fly if a company doesn’t handle it right. Each generation is an integral part of any successful company, so ignoring problems simply isn’t an option. Fostering an environment wherein stereotypes are stripped down rather than built up, collaboration is encouraged, and managers better understand their employees will go a long way in getting two seemingly polar opposite generations to work well together.