Generational differences in the workplace have always been a challenge, but getting baby boomers and millennials to see eye to eye can be especially difficult. Members of these two generations often have vastly different views of work, which comes through in how they interact. For example, many baby boomers value a nice paycheck and other compensation, while millennials may care more about achieving a good work/life balance. Such differences can create friction, as can stereotypes such as the “entitled” millennial or “condescending” boomer.
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—and boomers and millennials are America's two largest generations (millennials have the edge) so there are likely to be a lot of them in any workplace.
- 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 the 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 trying things like "reverse mentoring."
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.
One 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 boomer, whether it's advising on technical issues or showing them how to make sense of the latest social media hangout. Baby boomers 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.
Millennials already make up more than one-third of the workforce. By 2029 millennials (more than 38.5 million) will outnumber all other age groups. This means that baby boomer managers need to understand and navigate the generational differences of employees who are the same age as the manager's children (or even grandchildren).
Create Diverse Teams
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 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, maybe naturally, 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.
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. Requests to work off-site or have Fridays off, may annoy the baby boomer manager and sometimes it simply won't work out to grant them. 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—or even remote ones.
The pandemic pushed more employers to reevaluate the traditional requirement of working in a physical office after months—and even nearly two years—of largely successful all-remote work. While some companies want everyone back in the office, many have started offering flexibility such as hybrid or remote-by-choice options.
When Were Baby Boomers Born?
People born between 1946 and 1964 are baby boomers. This generation gets its name from the baby boom that took place between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s. In 2022, boomers range in age from 57 through 75.
What Is Generation Y?
Generation Y is another term used to describe millennials. This generation was born from 1981 to 1996.
How Many Baby Boomers and Millennials Are There?
The U.S. is home to approximately 71.6 million baby boomers. Baby boomers are the second largest generation. The millennial generation is the largest at 72.1.
The Bottom Line
Good relationships in a work environment can be difficult to achieve, even if everyone is part of the same generation. 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; ignoring problems simply isn’t an option. Fostering an environment where stereotypes are stripped away rather than built up, collaboration is encouraged, and managers better understand their employees will go a long way toward getting these, sometimes very opposite, generations to work well together.