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What Boomers and Millennials Can Learn From Each Other at Work

This article was based on episode 246 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get two months of Fast Forward membership for free. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


As a millennial myself, I have to admit it stings when I hear judgements about my generation in the workplace. Millennials are often referred to as “entitled” and “lazy”. But what are these judgements really about? Are the younger Millennial and Gen Z generations really that bad? Are the boomers really perfect? Or is there a different perspective that can shed light into these office tensions and what we might learn from each generation?


I was so grateful for this conversation with Vivek Iyyani. Vivek is a professional speaker and author. He's written three books on Millennials and consults Fortune 500 organizations to bridge the generational gap within their teams. His insights into how different ages respond to change opened my eyes to what’s really going on below the surface. As Vivek assures us, we can bridge these generational divides through greater understanding and communication.


MILLENNIALS WANT EFFICIENCY


Millennials are more comfortable with newer technology, and they feel strongly about the importance of doing things with maximum efficiency. Aversion to change is something that frustrates Millennials like crazy. Before the Covid pandemic, so many Millennials were frustrated that their requests to work from home were met with silence from their older managers. Millennials believed they could be more productive at home, but most organizations were set in the Standard Operating Procedures of continuing to do things as they were always done. Often the judgements of “lazy” are really a misinterpretation of Millennials trying to offer new, more efficient ways of getting things done.


NEW TECHNOLOGY IS HARDER FOR THE OLDER GENERATIONS


While newer technology might mean less steps for Millennials, the truth is that it could mean more steps for those uncomfortable with new ways of working. New software or other digital/automated tools can be a huge learning curve for those who didn’t grow up with computers. This is another reason why coming up with more “efficient” ways of doing things may be met with resistance by Boomers. Having this understanding can bridge the tension that arises when new ideas are presented.


We need a balance at work between trying out new technology and methods while also helping older folks master these new skills. Bring curiosity when you inquire about methods used. Be careful not to make assumptions about why people are working in a certain way and see if you can understand from their perspective the challenges/fears they face.


MILLENNIALS CAN LEARN FROM BOOMERS HOW TO COMMUNICATE BETTER


Millennials are much more comfortable texting for communication. This can cause a lot of communication breakdowns, including unprofessional work behaviors like Ghosting and Blue Tick Anxiety that never used to take place.


Ghosting, which is more commonly attributed to dating situations, is when one person blocks or avoids another instead of having the uncomfortable conversation to end it. The same ghosting behavior happens at work; someone may go through rounds of interviews, be presented with a job offer, and then instead of declining, they simply never respond.


Conflict avoidant behavior impacts team culture in so many ways. One big problem is the lack of constructive feedback. We need to know what we did wrong so that we can do better in the future.


Blue Tick Anxiety happens when someone sees the two “ticks” or checkmarks next to the WhatsApp text, and then gets incredibly anxious when they don’t receive a response right away. They may waste time worrying that they did something wrong to upset the recipient, but won’t just pick up the phone and check in.


Millennials can greatly learn from Boomers how to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable. The soft skills of having hard conversations is a critical tool that the older generation can guide the younger ones in mastering.


BOOMERS CAN LEARN FROM MILLENNIALS HOW TO ENVISION A BETTER FUTURE


Sometimes when millennials complain about unhealthy workplace behaviors they want to change, they feel their experiences are discounted by Boomers who had it “so much worse”. The older generation should be careful not to believe that because their previous work experiences were more toxic that the younger generation should be happy with what they have. We should always be striving towards an amazing workplace, instead of running from (or putting up with) a more toxic one. It’s important that when people offer feedback and complaints, their problems are heard with an eye towards fostering a better workplace experience for everyone.


Each generation brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table. Millennials love trying out new technology and seeing how much more efficient and productive they can be. Yet this zest for change can be challenging for those in which learning new technology trips them up. The attachment to technology can also bring more communication problems for millennials who avoid having the harder conversations in real time. Boomers can model the benefits of straightforward communication and guide the younger generation in rising to that level.


Be clear first and foremost about norms and expectations for communication. Decide as a team how often you will be checking and responding to various messaging platforms so there’s no pressure to respond right away. And listen when people speak up about what’s troubling them at work, even if you experienced worse. We all have ways to lift each other up higher. Together, we can always be better.


KEEP UP WITH VIVEK


Get a chance to win 1 copy of Vivek’s book, The Millennial Leader, when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join.


This article was based on episode 246 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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