Dysfunction in the Diverse Workplace
Tips for Boomers and Millennials to increase effectiveness and utilize the other’s strengths.
Millennials make up 75.4 million people in today’s population, with more coming into the workplace everyday. On the other hand, the Baby Boomer generation is dwindling, with an average of 3.6 million leaving the workforce annually. Beneath the calm exterior of a professional workplace, there’s an on-going frustration wreaking havoc to the morale and efficiency of top businesses and industries. To summarize it in two words, it’s called a Generation Gap.
During a meeting with one of my clients, a frustration emerged that I’ve heard time and time again from colleagues, media outlets, and even in my own work experience. It’s the sentiment of a frustrated boomer trying to manage a seemingly disengaged Millennial who expects to have the same standard of living that their parents have. Looking for a balanced perspective, I took the liberty of asking a few Millennials about their frustrations, and the age issue was also present. From the Millennial perspective some feel they’re being under utilized and undervalued. They’re sometimes frustrated with the old-school ways of their technophobic Boomer coworkers. So what’s causing this disconnect between Millennials and Boomers, and what can we do to leverage each generation’s overarching strengths?
Boomers and Millennials Are Not So Different
Two generations being at odds with each other is nothing new, and a tale that has repeated itself throughout history. When I was in my twenties many of my peers were called, “lazy good-for-nothing hippies.” The root of the problem typically lies in misunderstanding. Generation to generation, we all want to be developed, utilized, and to feel valued. While boomers grew up in an age of post-war economic boom, Millennials are facing a much different job market today. By mid-twenties many boomers were living on their own, often married and in a good job with benefits and growth opportunities. Today, for the first time in over 130 years, 1/3rd of mid-twenty year-olds are still living with their parents! This may be a sign of economic struggle, not necessarily a sign of laziness as many of us Boomers like to believe. In large part, Millennials are racked with student debt and entering a competitive work field where many employers are looking to hire for entry-level jobs with “10 years of experience.” At the end of the day both parties want the same thing, which is to be successful. Millennials want to fast-track their success by leveraging technology, Boomers see the success they’ve achieved as being the result of paying their dues, putting in hard work, and building their personal pool of knowledge and wisdom over decades.
Increasing Millennial Engagement
According to Forbes statistics, one of the most sought after job benefits from a millennial perspective is mentorship. In a world of boundless information at their fingertips and thousands of Facebook friends to back up their ideas, Millennials are seeking development, and a way to take the knowledge they have and apply it into their work life. Now, more than ever, young workers are looking for companies that have strong values, who are making a difference in their communities and in the world. Millennials have a lot to offer, and are often more tech savvy than their boomer bosses. There are limitless opportunities to leverage this new technology in any field. To engage a Millennial, provide mentorship, give them meaningful work, and allow them to implement the cutting edge app that will make work more efficient.
Baby Boomers: Tips to Manage Millennials
One of the greatest strengths of the boomer generation is experience; meanwhile Millennials are trying to teach themselves leadership and technical skills through on-demand YouTube videos and live webinars. To transfer our hard-won knowledge, here are a two things we Boomers can do:
- Give Feedback
For the Millennials on your team, strive to help them develop their skills by providing regular feedback. In a well-recognized Gallup Inc. study, engaged employees have a direct correlation with the amount of positive feedback. Even negative feedback results in up-to double the employee engagement compared to giving no feedback at all. Offering your younger co-workers an opportunity to improve and be recognized for their strengths through consistent feedback not only provides a systematic way to address performance quality, but a great opportunity to further train and refine the upcoming generation. A word of caution: not all of us Boomers are good at giving feedback appropriately. If you give feedback and the outcome is a strained relationship or people quitting, you may want to re-examine your feedback skills. I can help you with that.
2. Give the Why
Let Millennials in on the “why” of their work. Especially when asking for heavy grind work such as data entry or admin work, let them know why the task is important in the bigger picture, and genuinely express appreciation for their work. This positive reinforcement can play a big part in the employee’s mindset and set them up for an engaged and satisfying day at work, full of purpose and recognition.
Millennials: Tips to Impress Boomers
Many times, what seems common sense or second nature to a boomer may not make any sense to you as a millennial. Instead of nodding your head and then searching Google for the translation, here are a couple of foolproof communication hacks to get the clarification you need to be efficient and get the job done right.
The next time you feel foggy on the expectations of an assignment, try repeating back in your own words what is expected of you. For example, you could say “Just for clarification, you are asking me to…” This quick tip will ensure you are on the same page as your leader, and will prevent error due to lack of understanding on your part.
Don’t be afraid of some constructive criticism. Ask for it. Sometimes your supervisor may be reluctant to tell you how you can do better work, not knowing how you’ll react, and not wanting to strain the working relationship. The fact that you’re asking in the first place will be a big plus in the mind of the supervisor. It shows that you value their opinion and your job, and that you want to do your best work. They may say “I’ll think about it,” and if they do, circle back around to it, or even ask for feedback on a specific task, such as “I’d love to know how I can improve in ___ area. I recognize it’s an important part of my position and I want the be the absolute best in that role.” Asking questions such as “What attributes make the best employee for this role?” can also help them verbalize their knowledge and opinions. Taking a stance of curiosity and willingness to change will not only show maturity but it will also set you apart as one who is willing to go the extra mile, and will likely put you in the lead for future promotions.
Despite the differences in upbringing and pop-culture, Boomers and Millennials are not strangers. They’re our children, our parents and the future. Working well together offers far more benefits then continuing to struggle through our differences. When we come together to a place of curiosity, understanding, and offer the benefit of the doubt, our productivity, job satisfaction and engagement will be greatly enhanced.
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