Boomers and millennials: Can we achieve mutual admiration?

By Phyllis Weiss Haserot
This is the second in a new series of regular columns by generational expert and internationally known consultant, coach, writer, and speaker Phyllis Weiss Haserot on intergenerational relations and navigating the challenges of the multi-generational workplace for better productivity, retention, succession planning, and business development results.

All the generations want more respect from the others. Below are things I think are under-appreciated. Recognizing them can help to build bridges.

What Baby Boomers need to learn to appreciate about Generation Y/Millennials

"Success skills" (don't call them "soft") often learned in school that recent grads bring to the workplace:

 

  • Ability to function on four or five hours of sleep and work late to complete projects
     
  • Connecting with clients through new technologies (social networking online, creating web pages, blogs, etc)
     
  • Collaboration and conflict resolution skills from working in groups
     
  • Ability to work in a team environment
     
  • Working with "people of difference" – a very broad vision of diversity
     
  • Well researched on facts and gossip from the web (on firms, competition, on products, etc.)
     
  • Knowing the value of networking

On the other hand:

What irks Boomers about Gen Y/Millennials

 

  • Impatience
     
  • Lack of appreciation of "proven" ways of doing things
     
  • Dislike of face-time; resistance to doing drudge work
     
  • Sloppy communication
     
  • Demand for work-life flexibility (though Boomers want flexibility too)
     
  • Assumed demand for more money without more work
     
  • Refusal to defer gratification

What Gen Y needs to appreciate about Baby Boomers

 

  • While there is still so much farther to go, the Boomers made the culture of firms much more diverse than before.
     
  • As a group, Boomers are in a sort of confused or ambivalent state between how things were (professions as "professions, not "businesses," more security and long-term affiliations, etc.) and how they are (more cutthroat; less secure, free agency). The rules were changed on them; and now they find themselves changing the rules while simultaneously hanging on to traditional ways.
    Generational Definitions
    Here are some quick definitions. Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were growing up. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:

    Traditionalists born 1925-1942
    Baby Boomers born 1943-1962
    Generation X born 1963-1978
    Generation Y/Millennials born 1979-1998 (under age 30 today)
     

  • As the generation still in charge, Boomers' heavily invested careers are on the line. They need to develop faith in new models: business models; models of behavior; and models of governance. They need to believe that levels of productivity and professionalism can be maintained while doing things differently. In other words, they are not congenitally against anything new.

Bonding Baby Boomers and Generation Y/Millennials

There are good opportunities for bonding through common "wants." Some of these are:

 

  • Desire for substantial responsibility and intellectual challenge.
     
  • Need to see the big picture on career paths. (The Boomers still want this.)
     
  • A sense of social consciousness; desire to give back and leave a legacy.
     
  • Desire for flexibility. This must be based on trust and merit and a willingness to be accountable.

Stretching beyond one's comfort zone is by definition both uncomfortable and a growth experience. Achieving mutual admiration will do wonders for working relations among the new and older generations and reduce costly turnover.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2008. All rights reserved.
Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over 20 years ago. A special focus is on the profitability of improving inter-generational relations and transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners. Haserot is the author of "The Rainmaking Machine" and "The Marketer's Handbook of Tips & Checklists" (both Thomson/West 2008).

See all of the articles in this series.
 

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