Millennial VS Baby Boomers in the workplace

Posted by Allan Steinmetz on 30 January 2018

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The other day, I had a fascinating conversation with a client regarding the contrast and differences in attitudes and behavior in marketing/branding between the millennial workforce and generation X/baby boomer workforce. We both agreed that there are significant differences that run the risk of diminishing employee brand engagement among both populations. We felt that the differences between the groups could have dire consequences on the company’s purpose, morale, culture and brand reputation and that would ultimately have an impact on performance and productivity.

If the core values, motivations, and behavior differ, it could cause cultural conflicts that prevent a company from focusing on the things that matter most; creativity, innovation, attracting the right talent and enhancing the customer experience. In this paper, I hope to address what an organization can do to overcome the cultural conflicts that may exist between baby boomers and millennials. But first, here are some clarifying facts about these groups.

The facts: Baby Boomers were born before 1963, Gen X (those born between 1963-1980), and Millennials, were born between 1980-1995. Baby boomers represent 80 million people, and millennials represent 75 million people. Other than age, just about everything about these distinct cohort groups is different.

Influences: Baby boomers are influenced by civil rights, the Vietnam War the sexual revolution the Cold War and space travel. They have the highest divorce rate and the highest number of second marriages in history. These postwar babies grew up to be radicals of the 1970s and the yuppies of the 1980s. The “American dream” was promised to them as children and they pursue it. As a result, they are often seen as being greedy, materialistic and ambitious.

Millennials, by contrast, are influenced by the digital media age, child-focused world, school shootings, terrorist attacks, AIDS and 9/11 attacks. Often, they grew up as children of divorce. They hope to be the next generation to turn around all the “wrong” they see in the world today. They grew up more sheltered than any other generation as their parents strives to protect them from the evils of the world. They came of age in a period of economic expansion, busy as kids and were the first generation of children with schedules.

Core Value Differences: The core values of these two distinct generations also are incredibly contrasting and contribute to different attitudes and habits in the workplace. For instance, baby boomer’s core values are; anti-war, anti-government, equal rights and equal opportunities and heavily impacts their decisions. They are incredibly loyal to their children, are involved with a sense of optimism, and seek personal gratification and personal growth. They spend now and worry later. They work well in teams but want to “make a difference.”

Millennials core values are being street smart, realists and optimists. Extremely tech savvy and impatient - self-gratification NOW! They are self-confident, sociable and likes personal attention and recognition. They believe in civic duty, diversity, high morals and are more tolerant of others. Some say they are self-absorbed and only bestow respect based on competency, not a title or rite of passage. You might hear them say, “What have you done for me lately?” They seek responsibility early in their roles and careers and don’t understand the concept of “paying dues.” A few years back Time magazine had millennial’s as the person of the year with a title, ME, ME, ME Generation

Work Environment: The contrast between baby boomers and millennials and their preferred work environment is also in contrast. For instance, baby boomers prefer flat organizational hierarchies that are democratic. They seek equal opportunity and a warm, friendly atmosphere. Millennials on the other hand, are collaborative - yet come combative and argumentative. Hierarchies are an excuse for slowing the process down. They are achievement oriented and highly creative. Positive; are diverse and want to have fun, are flexible, and want to receive continuous feedback on their performance and make a contribution to society not just their organization.

These differing traits have already reshaped how HR departments are changing within large organizations. For instance, recently GE, instead of having annual supervisor feedback and appraisals, are now done quarterly with updated goals and objectives. In other organizations such as Aetna traditional benefit programs have evolved into broad wellness plans that include massage therapy, yoga, and meditation.

The generational contrast has had a vivid transformation in the dynamic office workplace design for sure. If you want to know what I mean, go visit a WeWork Transformational workplace.  There are very few offices and more work pods and open spaces. At least four of our Fortune 50 clients has transformed their traditional office environment to an open transformational workspace, where office space is not confined or assigned. They call at “hoteling.” Employees have lockers to keep their personal things and take a different workspace that is vacant nearly every day. Meetings rooms have been replaced with lounges, restaurant styled booths, and even encircled treadmills for brainstorm sessions and meetings. I would never have imagined this 25 years ago. Back then office space was individual offices and cubicles, period.

Approach to Marketing/Branding and Technology: In marketing just think how these two cohort generational groups think, act and behave differently regarding marketing and planning techniques. Baby boomers grew their careers on traditional media tactics such as mass advertising, public relations and press releases, broadcast media (television advertising and radio), direct mail and magazines. They conducted market research through qualitative and quantitative studies. Later in the 1990s, they acquired some technology skills with our desktop computers. I remember connecting to the Internet for the first time in 1992. Marketing such as media optimizations, SEO, outbound emails and web banner advertising followed in the in early 2000.

Millennials, on the other hand, have been tech savvy since they were schoolchildren.  Technology comes as second nature and is part of their daily lives. Laptops and tablets evolved into smartphone extensions and lifestyle devices. Social media, Kindle, Facebook and Google is always at their fingertips. Instagram and Snapchat are a lifestyle. Being connected to the web is a right. Streaming video, Netflix, Twitter, blogging, webinars, on-demand media, podcasts have all replaced traditional mass marketing media.

So, what should leadership within marketing/branding and HR departments be thinking about to unify baby boomers and millennials so that there is harmony in the workplace and focus on a common cause?

Compile diverse teams. Teams should consist of individual members who are compiled from each of the demographic generational cohorts of baby boomers, generation X and millennials. They should also be represented by geography/region if possible. Each member should have different communication, learning, and problem-solving styles. The strength of a team will be determined by how well the diverse individual talents and strengths are utilized. Let the various team members set their goals and objectives collectively and take ownership. Leadership should state the success factors, process and timeline and how the team will be recognized and rewarded.

It’s not about who’s right. It’s about what’s right. Companies must take the political agenda off the table. David Cameron once said, “I believe that in life, you have to give things your best shot, do your best. You have to focus on what needs to be done, do the right thing, not the popular thing.” This quote is accurate in the business environment as well. You need to convey to all generational cohort groups that the individuals are unified by a common purpose, vision, and values which dictates that everything a company and their employees to has to be in support of the overall objective, not the individual agendas of people.

Show what success is and how it will be recognized. These two generations measure success in different ways. Baby boomers relate to the carrot and stick mentality. If you achieve your goals, you will be recognized and rewarded in return. Millennials, on the other hand, measure success by the experience, the journey and the collective knowledge and benefit to the organization and society. Somehow, the organization must combine these motivations to explain how their respective success can be achieved simultaneously.  Set expectations for success in a transparent way, so it becomes relevant to all participants, no matter their cohort generation. Make the success meaningful to individuals personally. Something like this that can appeal to both groups; “As a result, everyone can succeed in achieving a healthy work-life balance and spend more time with their family and grandchildren.”

Define work. It starts by defining what hard work looks like and how it is defined. Baby boomers and millennial’s may approach hard work differently, but they both should recognize its importance and priority. Baby boomers tend to believe that action only occurs at the office, and success means putting in long work weeks to finish a project. They are process-oriented because they entered the professional world in an era when work couldn’t be done at home. Millennials understand hard work as the quality of their output, not necessarily the hours spent in the office.  Since millennials are always connected; they can put hours into their practice wherever they are—at home, in the coffee shop, or elsewhere.

Establish abundant mentality among all the workers through effective communications and technology. When an individual has a good idea, it should be shared openly, discussed, debated and a consensus should be achieved among the participants.  Let the cross-generational team figure it out together as a team and hold the entire team accountable rather than just individual leaders. Leaders must facilitate open dialogue - allow everyone’s opinion to be heard. In this day and age, use digital technology to promote abundant mentality and open discussion through texting, social hangouts, and blogging.

Focus on execution as well as a result. Both generations approach work from different perspectives, but everyone can agree on the steps necessary to achieve the result they all desire. From what I have read and learned, execution is both respected and worshiped by both groups. Execution should become a focus of the joint cross-generational team. Assignments should be made through best talent allocation. Timelines should be established and managed by the best project managers. Members of the group should be tapped for their strengths and not just for the chair that they occupy.

Adopt new forms and methods of communications. Organizations must create environments, change habits and adapt to new ways of communications to facilitate abundant mentality. Baby boomers prefer more formal face-to-face interactions/meetings, and phone conversations; tech-savvy millennials favor voicemail, email and SMS text and Facebook or live video. Therefore, companies need to offer both formal and informal communication channels.

Create a cross-directional mentorship program. Pairing employees across generations encourage them to build relationships and understand each other’s perspectives allowing the different generations to learn from one another. That may mean millennial employees get advice on career development and professionalism, while baby boomer employees learn more about new technologies. The goal is for everyone to develop new skills and viewpoints while building personal relationships and building a much stronger cross-generational work culture.

In summary, creating harmony and unity among baby boomers and millennials and the workforce requires patience like a parent and a game plan of a football coach. In the end, it is always about teamwork, collaboration and cooperation and having respect for others’ opinions and expertise. In our high-tech digital world, it is easy to share ideas and best practices and raise the results to a higher plain. You need collaborative problem-solving, active listening skills and a team spirit to achieve a significant success that allows the company to stand out.

If you would like to have a conversation about generational integration in creating diverse teams that work, please give us a call.

Allan Steinmetz CEO - Inward Strategic Consulting 617-558-9770