Who influences you the most? It’s probably someone who is knowledgeable, experienced, sensible, and loyal. In the workplace, this person is most likely considered to be in the baby boomer generation. As boomers draw closer to retirement, organizations turn to millennials to assume many important roles throughout an organization, because generation X doesn’t have the capacity in the workforce to replenish the upcoming vacant positions.
While it’s crucial for baby boomers to pass important business and industry knowledge directly to millennials, this is a challenge for many organizations due to the generations’ differing lifestyle and workplace expectations.
Organizations can reinforce their competitive advantage by merging deep, enduring industry knowledge held by baby boomers with the innovative ideas of Millennials. However, the two generations’ divergent mindsets can adversely affect an organization’s efforts to integrate their respective strengths. The path toward minimizing barriers and creating a collaborative work environment begins with the generations understanding each other, particularly in terms of expectations in the workplace.
Differences include the definition of career success, communication style, and the control of information. If the gap between baby boomers and millennials is not successfully closed, organizations will fail to create a workplace that maximizes the strengths of each generation. Ultimately, the organizations that successfully merge baby boomer knowledge with millennial innovation will have a competitive advantage and dominate the market.
The typical career paths and expected career progressions for baby boomers and millennials are vastly different. A typical successful career for a baby boomer began at ground-floor operations and eventually progressed to a mid-level corporate management position. From a millennial’s perspective, a career may begin in a corporate position rather than a role in the field or ground floor.
Millennials expect rapid career progression. As a result, boomers tend to mistakenly perceive millennials as the generation that expects everything without paying their dues. Conversely, millennials often dismiss Baby Boomers’ experience. It is critical for baby boomers to share this knowledge with millennials to ensure longstanding organization and industry knowledge is carried into the future. To help resolve the divergent views, each generation must understand why the definition of success and timeline of career progression has evolved throughout the years.
Millennials today are given the opportunity to start a career in corporate due to the rapid growth in technology and a shrinking dependence upon an expert’s physical presence in the field. In baby boomers’ early careers, a physical presence in the field was necessary to collect pertinent data for organizations to analyze and make decisions. A baby boomer’s career progressed from the field once they had proven to superiors they could make sound operational decisions. However, computers, advanced machinery, and specialized degree programs have replaced the need for multiple workers to physically be in the field collecting data. Also, the growth of specialized degree programs and electronic learning has virtually eliminated the need to work in the field prior to a corporate assignment. However, millennials need to approach their career growth with cautious optimism. Millennials must understand the starting of a career in a corporate office does not automatically translate into a rapid rise to the executive suite.
Although career paths have significantly changed over time, understanding core ground-floor operations continues to be a vital piece of knowledge for career progression. A baby boomer has a rich background in many areas of an organization’s operations. Baby boomers have spent years perfecting roles and understanding operations on a tactical and intimate level. Since millennials may not have the opportunity to learn in the field, both generations must take steps to ensure knowledge sharing occurs. Baby boomers must be held accountable for exposing millennials to the relevant aspects of the organization’s operations. At the same time, millennials must focus on consuming and learning the critical information baby boomers pass down. Millennials must also realize career progression arrives after proving an understanding of the business and the ability to make sound business decisions.
In the workplace, if a millennial is told to do something a certain way, more often than not, they will ask, “Why?” To a fellow millennial, this simple question spurs a discussion about what the action accomplishes and how a certain process can be made more efficient. To a baby boomer, the “why” comes off as the millennial challenging authority rather than doing as told.
Millennials possess new and innovative ideas for improving processes baby boomers originally instituted. To change stagnant processes, both generations must understand each other’s communication differences and learn how to effectively communicate tasks and recommendations.
Millennials grew up in a culture where spontaneous questions and creativity were encouraged by parents and teachers. The millennial generation intuitively possesses this mindset and prefers unstructured and collaborative communication among peers in the workplace. However, baby boomers were raised to follow instructions. Boomers also prefer a managed flow of communication.
By understanding the different background of the other generation, steps can be taken toward improving communications. Millennials must take initiative and build substantial support for their ideas. Three components are crucial when presenting recommendations to baby boomers: the recommendation, the data supporting the recommendation, and the expected outcomes. This platform gives baby boomers confidence in a millennial’s proposition as it transforms a spontaneous thought into a well-developed and grounded recommendation. Conversely, baby boomers need to empower millennials to leverage new ideas. Baby boomers must open lines of communication and grant millennials the opportunity to learn as much as possible from them.
Once communication barriers are understood, the generations can optimize their differing approaches to operating the business. Millennials automatically turn to technology to improve processes while baby boomers typically shy away from it. Compare a boomer’s office with a millennial’s. If given a storage cabinet, a baby boomer will have the cabinets filled with printed papers or binders. A millennial’s cabinet may remain empty or the shelves will have nick-knacks and pictures of friends. Baby boomers tend to value control and want physical access to information. If the papers are printed, the information, theoretically, cannot be lost. Alternatively, a millennial’s papers are sitting on a hard drive, in their email, or in some cloud-based application.
Millennials trust technology to store files and speed up processes. Baby boomers tend to be hesitant to allow technology to handle most tasks as it is perceived as losing control. The hesitation along with the millennials’ heavy reliance on technology for many tasks can cause the generations to disagree whether technology can enable processes or decision making. Both generations must understand their view of technology was shaped by technology’s presence throughout their upbringing.
Undoubtedly, millennials have been exposed to technology throughout their lives. Baby boomers did not have this exposure until later in life. Millennials are influenced by technology and incorporate it into their daily lives. Millennials understand how technologies such as the cloud work and therefore feel in control with files stored in intangible places. Baby boomers did not experience advanced technology such as cloud applications or smart phones until their later years. If certain aspects of a technology are not understood, baby boomers may feel a loss of control over their files when the leap from visible to invisible occurs. Although each generation’s views toward technology are ingrained in their minds, they can teach each other when technology is more effective/efficient and when it’s not.
Millennials understand technology and can demonstrate how it can make processes as efficient as possible. Baby boomers truly understand how the physical processes work and can ensure all considerations are covered when leveraging new technology.
Baby boomers and millennials are more compatible than meets the eye. Their different strengths mesh well to create a competitive advantage leveraging longstanding knowledge with innovative ideas. Each generation’s strengths are not always apparent due to the perceptions each generation holds of the other.
The first step to combat the perception issue begins with each generation understanding how and why the definition of career success has evolved throughout the years. Next, generations must learn to effectively communicate with each other to ensure crucial information and relevant recommendations are exchanged. Lastly, generations can focus on integrating their respective strengths to improve processes and decision making. Ultimately, organizations must hold each generation responsible for accepting the other generation’s characteristics and collaborating to reinforce and build upon a competitive advantage in today’s market.