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Friday, October 28, 2016

Baby Boomers vs. Millennials

Written by  Richard Finger

The theme of managing a multigenerational workforce has surfaced several times over the past weeks, and thought this would make for an interesting topic to share with the readers. There seems to be inherent conflict between the baby boomer generation vs. the millennials, in terms of what each expects, generally speaking, in the workplace. Another way to look at it is from the aspect of digital immigrants, those born before the advent of personal computers, laptops, smartphones, etc., and those born afterwards.

I recently received a phone call from a baby-boomer senior leader in an organization. One of her responsibilities is to manage the MBA program in her organization. It seems some of the MBA students were taking issue with swiping in and out of work each day. We talked about the legalities of tracking work time, but very quickly, the conversation turned to the expectations of millennials in today’s workplace. The baby boomer generation has been programmed to work standard hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each workday, primarily completing their work while at work. Millennials are not programmed that way. Research shows, they want to work when the mood strikes, which could be at any time, at any place. It is easy to see how baby boomers can conclude the younger generation lacks work ethic, and could be judged as lazy. What is not easy to see is that the millennials just want to work differently. It was also important to talk about evolving the company culture of “You’re only working when I see you” to one of managing performance and engagement. These are two very different approaches.

A second incident involves the conflict between a male employee in his 40s and a female employee in her 20s. The male employee seems to use the “f” word in the office like the word “the” – in other words, very commonly. The female employee took offense to this language and raised the issue to her manager. The manager of the two individuals called me to discuss, and once again, the conversation evolved to the conflicts of generations at work. What is acceptable to one generation may not be to another. Younger workers may become more easily offended than older workers. The important takeaway from our discussion was for the manager to relay a message that all employees, no matter what age, should always behave professionally, and be respectful of all others. It is quite possible the male employee has no idea his behavior was offending her, or anyone else.

To remain competitive in recruiting millennial talent in organizations it is imperative to recognize how company practices, policies, and overall culture will play out while meeting the needs of other generations of workers. I have spent a great deal of time with baby boomer management explaining one key component of the digital native worker …since most of their communication happens electronically between them, digital natives have a hard time empathizing, and understanding body language. Managers need to assess when the right time to speak directly to their millennial employees, and when it is best to communicate electronically.

I have seen popping up more frequently in organizations the idea of reverse mentoring, where a younger worker is partnered with a more seasoned worker. Each learns from the other, and helps the other to understand and work through their different approaches to work and problem solving. The respect for linear thinking vs. generational thinking. From a human resources perspective, it has been fun to watch how diversity in thought has led to better collaboration, and how more powerful solutions are created.

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