Millennials vs. Baby Boomers in the Workplace: Myths and Truths

In the past 2 weeks, I have been asked to do 17 radio interviews around the country about the differences between baby boomers and millennials in terms of how they approach work. The data seems to be clear that millennials are now and will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the workplace. I became very interested in this topic because my book, The Relationship Edge in Business, revolves around the process of how to teach anyone how to build, maintain and leverage a business relationship with someone that they DO NOT naturally connect with.

Connecting the Generations

That lack of connection is a fairly apt description of what exists between the baby boomers and millennials. Also, there are some “generalizations” about millennials that are clearly misunderstandings, based on the ones that I know. Allow me to share my insights about how millennials and baby boomers can work together. There are 3 very important realities about this workplace dynamic:

  1. We have to get used to it.
  2. Baby boomers are different than millennials in many ways.
  3. Millennials are great for the future of America.

Facing and Embracing Generational Differences

Why do we need to get used to it? Because it isn’t going to change any time soon. Baby boomers and millennials together make up almost half of the US population. Baby boomers will continue to work for many more years, and the millennials aren’t going away either. We need to get accustomed to the reality that we will be working together—both with and for them no matter which side of the age continuum you are on.

Baby boomers are different than millennials, and millennials are different than baby boomers. But how? There are 4 major differences that I have observed, but for now, I’ll focus on one: Both groups see the concept of work differently.

Boomers Defined by Their Work

Baby Boomers have often had their work “define” them, and we (yes, I am a baby boomer) worked because we had to support our families. Most of us didn’t think about whether or not we loved our new employment opportunity. Instead, we thought about the practical reality that this job would help us feed our family and create some financial security for us if we were lucky. I didn’t really want to be in sales when I first started, but I wasn’t able to find another way to make a living. I found my purpose as I began to truly understand the good my work might do but that concept of “purpose” did not occur to me when I began working.

Millennials and Workplace Meaning

Millennials want meaning and purpose from work from day one. They want to work in a job that has meaning to them and fulfills their purpose, while providing flexibility, work-life balance and an opportunity to grow and develop. They need to feel that this exists before they start working at a company.

Those are 2 very different views about work. It’s that, while the viewpoints are quite different, the ability and desire to excel are not. When millennials find jobs that they find meaningful, they are incredible workers. They are smart, technologically savvy, and very innovative. Along with the passion they bring to their work (and the cause related to it), millennials can be ideal for many professions.

A Change in the Workforce Fabric

It’s clear that the fabric of our workforce is changing before our eyes, and there is a need for understanding. There is much more to discuss about the other 3 differences between millennials and boomers, which I’ll tackle in next week’s blog. I’ll explain how the concepts Thinking Like a Customer and The Relationship Edge in Business can be powerful platforms to use to make wonderful work music with the “other” generation.