It seems like every day you look at the news, there’s a piece about Millennials. They’re lazy, they’re valuable, they’re the worst, they’re the best. All sorts of opinions are out there and truthfully, there’s all sorts of Millennials out there. People like to to look at Millennials vs. Baby Boomers and compare compare compare. Millennials say Baby Boomers are stuck in the past, they can’t even use technology. And the Baby Boomers look at Millennials and wonder how a generation could become so entitled and deluded.
Yet we focus so much on the shortcomings of both generations, we rarely talk about what they can do for each other. It’s tough to deny that Millennials have some shortcomings. There are some skills they lack. It’s also tough to deny that Baby Boomers need Millennials. In a world so saturated with technology, having a digital native on your team seems like a smart move. But it’s about more than technology, and we’re going to dig into that here. First, let’s make sure we’ve got an agreed-upon definition of the two generations.
Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. They survived the heartbreak of Vietnam and experienced both John Kennedy’s election and his assassination. They grew up in a time when the 9 to 5 job was not just a way of life, but a movie. They are team players, many who have spent their life at one company, working up the corporate ladder, trying to find a balanced life between family and careers. They are satisfied with their structured workplace and find solace in its traditional hierarchy. A study published by EY, formerly Ernst & Young, found that boomers are “team players and loyal, but don’t adapt so well.”
The Millennials were born between 1981 and 1995. They watched the ushering in of the technical revolution and instant gratification actually became instant. Unity and devastation lived sided-by-side as the 9/11 bombing took almost 3,000 people’s lives. The same study conducted by EY found that Millennials are tech-savvy but not good team players. They are the first generation to find themselves in worse economic shape than their parents.
A Glimpse into the Life of a Millennial
Millennials can be split into two primary groups. Older Millennials with families, and younger, single Millennials.
Miss Y is in her mid-twenties and under a mountain-load of student debt. She is among the 40 percent of Americans that find themselves over the age of 18 and still living with their parents. She is tech-savvy and quick and feels like she has a lot to offer the right company…if only she could find the right company (and what would right look like?). For now, she’s working two part-time jobs. She’s wondering how she will ever find a legitimate job with a company that aligns with her own values. She wants to make an impact somewhere. She wants to feel like she’s a part of change, and none of the tables she’s waiting on are going to care about that.
She wants to make an impact somewhere. She wants to feel like she’s a part of change, and none of the tables she’s waiting on are going to care about that.
Mr. Y is in his early thirties. He got to enter adulthood right as the economy fell into a recession. He’s got a wife and kids so he can’t just quit the job he’s “lucky” enough to have. He feels like he has a lot to offer, but his boss is of the mind that being a leader means knowing everything. Right now he doesn’t feel like he’s doing much of anything other than bringing home a paycheck.
Why is There so Much Tension Around Millennials vs. Baby Boomers?
If you scan the internet for interesting articles, memes or videos, you’ve probably seen more than one about Millennials. From this workplace training video on coexisting with Millennials to this article about how Millennials are the worst generation, Millennials are getting bashed pretty much everywhere, which seems a bit counterproductive considering they’ve recently become the largest share of the American workforce.
All of this tension is really a culmination of a bunch of things: misunderstandings, technology, different priorities, and different world views. Addressing all the things that other generations hate about Millennials would take a lot more time than we have here, so for now, let’s just all agree that Millennials are different than Baby Boomers. They have faults and they have strengths, just like every other generation.
And to the Millennials that are reading this, Baby Boomers are just the same. They have faults and strengths, and they aren’t obsolete just because they aren’t digital natives.
So what can they offer each other?
The fact is, neither generation knows everything. If Baby Boomers want to grow their business and stay relevant, Millennials could be a huge asset. For Millennials who want to move forward with grand ideas, they could benefit from the years and years of experience that Baby Boomers bring to the table. Let’s look at a few key areas where Millennials and Baby Boomers can compliment each other.
We’ve said it again and again, Millennials want to do something meaningful. This doesn’t mean that every Millennial wants to pack up and join the Peace Corps. They just want to feel like they’re doing something that matters. Whether it’s helping individuals, the community, or the world, it’s mostly about seeing the effect of their work.
In their zeal and passion, Millennials can start thinking they’re above the boring tasks.
Baby Boomers can take advantage of this. If they can show Millennials the impact their work has, they’ll gain some committed employees who are ready to throw themselves into their work. There are. however, still menial tasks to be done. This is where Millennials could learn something from Boomers. “Millennial employees can be mindful that bosses need certain tasks to be done (and that these tasks can actually teach them much more than they realize)” says Alyson Krueger. In their zeal and passion, Millennials can start thinking they’re above the boring tasks. They aren’t! It’s like learning an instrument. You have to be consistent in practicing the “boring” stuff like scales over and over, because that is a part of mastering the instrument. You have to do boring stuff at work because, like it or not, it’s a part of how the company works. Plus, you can’t provide feedback on change if you don’t completely understand why the tasks exist and how they fit into the rest of the infrastructure.
Millennials aren’t afraid to share their ideas and opinions, which is great because managers can easily see where they stand. You’ll probably get a straight answer when you ask for it (and even when you don’t ask). Millennials can also learn from Boomers that sometimes it’s not the right time to share your thoughts. While Millennials can be too quick to speak up, Baby Boomers might take too long. Find a middle ground.
Technology is a hot topic in many businesses today. How can it be used to make operations more efficient? How can we use social media platforms to advertise? Is there software that can save us money? These are all questions that companies are asking, and the result is new technology being introduced into the workplace. Who is going to learn and use that tech? This is where Millennials can step up and really show their strengths. As digital natives, they are used to figuring out how to use new apps and programs. They are good at problem solving within technology. They aren’t likely to just give up on using something if it “isn’t working”, they’ll figure it out. Ask a Millennials about their work life and many will tell you that they’re basically the IT person for the office. It comes naturally to them.
And Baby Boomers should embrace this. Play on the strengths that are inherent to Millennials. Trust them with it. They probably know better than you.
Millennials aren’t likely to just give up on using something if it “isn’t working”, they’ll figure it out.
Commitment to the Workplace
Millennials get a bad rap for being job-hoppers. Boomers don’t see them as loyal and often consider them flaky and irresponsible.
But Millennials are like that because they aren’t afraid to try and find something they really enjoy doing.
There are downsides to this inherent need for Millennials to do something they absolutely love, but there is one very valuable upside for Baby Boomers. If you can create a company culture that your MIllennials love, and if you can show them the very real impact they are having, you get a very committed employee. Because if there’s one Millennial characteristic that’s apparent, it’s their tenacity to an idea or movement they believe in. Just look at their political movements. They don’t back down. So if you can inspire the passion in your Millennial employees you’ll get all their passionate energy thrown into their work.
What can Millennials learn from Boomers on this front? Sometimes too much passion can get in the way of clear thinking. Take a moment to step back and get an objective view. Realize that just because you’re not “feeling it” at the moment doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.
Millennials vs. Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers often get accused of being set in their ways, but you could say the same about Millennials who refuse to learn from an older generation. If both sides can let go of their pride for a minute, they would see that each has something of real value to bring to the table. If they work together they can compliment each other almost perfectly. It would certainly save everyone a good deal of failure, disappointment, and whining.