There's a meme circulating on social media that reads, “Behind every broke Millennial, is a Baby Boomer who makes 6 figures but can’t open a PDF.”It's humorous commentary on what is becoming a notable issue for almost all companies – accommodating generational differences.
While our society’s generational issues go beyond a blog post, it does seem each age group has preconceived notions of the next. Many of us have learned when two people (or generations in this case) take issue with one another, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Yes, the Baby Boomers have probably witnessed a few Millennials walk into light posts because they were so glued to their smart phones. That same Millennial or might also tell you about his or her boomer coworkers who unknowingly downloaded a few viruses onto their computers because they aren’t experienced in recognizing suspicious emails.
While the generational lines are a bit blurry, Baby Boomers were typically born between 1946-1964, Generation X between 1965-1980, and Millennials are generally designated as those born between the years 1980 – 1996. This means the American workforce spans at least three strikingly different age groups, each with its own preferences for workplace culture, learning style, and technology proficiency. Not only that, GenXers and older Millennials have passed or are approaching 40, climbing the ladder and becoming leaders alongside the Boomers. So, what do these differences mean for today's office?
Most GenX and Millennials grew up with computers, learning how to properly utilize them in a classroom setting. While this has translated into a certain amount of dependency, it’s also produced a lot of positive things. These are not only the most diverse generation in U.S. history; they’ve had access to learning tools that have given them a global perspective that translates well into their professional world. Baby Boomers have ruled the workplace for years and often feel their experience and developed skills are overlooked or undervalued by their younger counterparts, replaced by the latest technological advances. Their productivity stemmed from and was often measured by the long hours, dedication and time spent away from their families. They're individualistic and optimistic, and understand the value of face-to-face communication. While a one-week research project now takes one day with the increased capabilities of a Millennial, the Boomers aren't afraid or nervous about picking up the phone to call and do the fact-checking.
Millennials are criticized constantly for a lack of loyalty, poor work ethic, and sense of entitlement. They, along with Generation X, have fundamentally shaken up the workplace with home offices, freelancing and flexible schedule. Corporate and social responsibility are often deal-breakers when it comes to employers, and Millennials want to make a positive impact when they go to work. Loyalty to a Gen Xer is to a profession, not necessarily an employer, while Boomers place a very high importance on office seniority, likely influenced by their Silent Generation parents with life-long jobs. The Boomers experienced post-WW2 boom, the "Swinging Sixties," and Woodstock. Merging the life experiences with of the Boomer generation with the technology and creativity of GenX and the Millennials gives a company or organization the diversity and flexibility needed to be a success in this ever-changing corporate environment.
One quote in this article so aptly says, “The youth aren’t lazy, they’ve been given technology by previous generations, and they know how to leverage it.” It’s not a problem that’s new to the world or to one age group. Every previous generation has butted heads with the one before it and the one after it, and will continue. The next time you're in a board room or meeting, try to see the value each group's perspective brings to the table. Understand what motivates one might not motivate another. Reach across the proverbial table and help bridge the gap, even if you have to open a PDF or two.