We may be in the millennial age but our workplaces are a melting pot of different generations. In today’s average office, you have:
- Veterans (born 1930 – 1945)
- Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)
- Generation Xers (born 1965 – 1976)
- Generation Yers (born 1977 – 1990)
- Millennials (born since 1991)
Now, more than ever, it’s imperative for people from different generations to be able to work harmoniously. Two generations that stand for their different viewpoints are the Baby Boomers and Millennials. Keep in mind, one management principle cannot work for all employees, so, how do you navigate between their different approaches to work (without having to enlist the help of an office ninja)?
Let’s drop the preconceived stereotypes, agendas and egos – it’s time we take a closer look at the boomer-millennial relationship, what motivates them in the workplace and how we can go about improving our office culture and creating great teams with some help from Google’s Project Aristotle.
Difference: Communication style
- Baby Boomer: Boomers’ are traditionalists. They hold appropriateness and professionalism in high regard. They prefer more formal means of communication such as memos, face to face conversations or phone calls. While they respond best to personal contact, boomers’ have adapted to e-mails.
- Millennial: These “digital natives” are comfortable with texting, the use of social networking sites, group messaging tools like Slack, informal conversations and instant messaging. In terms of communication, millennials look for a direct and immediate response.
Bridge the gap:
Adapting. By using effective communication techniques, you will be able to reach each employee through their preferred form of communication. When in doubt, email is a safe bet to start with for initial contact.
Difference: Working style
- Baby Boomer: Boomers’ prefer to receive objectives and have control over their tasks. They prefer a structured system for feedback and expect recognition for their work through pay raises and promotions. Boomers’ like the traditional office environment and work hours.
- Millennial: They’re all for flexible work hours, working on-the-go and shared working spaces. They look to get regular feedback, want your immediate attention and prefer to get on-the-job mentoring. They like to feel like they are part of a community at work.
Bridge the gap:
Encouraging communication and feedback. Have one-on-one conversations with employees to find out what are their working styles and how both parties can contribute to the end goal.
Create diverse teams by mixing those from different age groups (and generations) together. This allows both boomers and millennials to learn from each other’s varied experiences and background. Diversity in a team results in fresh conversations and solutions.
Difference: Career motivation
- Baby Boomer: Boomers believe hard work pays off and are less likely to switch jobs often. What they earn goes towards providing a better lifestyle and to secure their future. Boomers keep their private lives out of the office and are diligent workers. They believe in hierarchy and that you have to pay your dues before you can go up the corporate ladder.
- Millennial: Money isn’t a millennial’s main motivator at work. They prefer to love what they do and value transparency in a leader and at the workplace. Millennials want to know that their opinions matter.
They like to be in the loop about their company’s plans for the future. They don’t care much for hierarchy in the workplace and believe any good idea (no matter the source) warrants acknowledgement.
Bridge the gap:
Understanding what motivates your employees regardless of what generation they come from. This means, keeping their ‘individual motivators’ in mind during the goal-setting process. Make sure those goals are practical across the board without favouring one generation over the other.
Connecting with your employees will in-turn encourage them to connect with their co-workers. Invite their families along for company events, change workstations or seating arrangements to prompt conversation and spark communication.
- Baby Boomer: Boomers’ are well-versed in the art of conversation. What some may lack in paper qualification, they make up for with their on-the-job experience and ability to connect in person. Their skills and professional capabilities are honed throughout the years they’ve work.
- Millennial: They are savvy, always connected and have the ability to pick up new skills and adapt easily. Change is a welcome constant for them. Although it is the opinion of some that the millennial market is “oversaturated with advanced degrees and MBAs” but their paper qualifications only get them so far.
Bridge the gap:
Understanding what each generation can bring to the table and recognise their value for what it is. Professional degrees, hard skills and soft skills all come into play in today’s workplace.
Set up skill building and knowledge sharing sessions for both baby boomers and millennials. Take a proactive approach so everyone can learn something new together (and bond). For example, coding, formal presentation tips, how to master Microsoft Excel, basic coding, introduction to SEO.
Project Aristotle: Google dissects what you need to create a “perfect” team
Charles Duhigg wrote about Project Aristotle in the New York Times and had this to share about the initiative’s findings.
“Within psychology, researchers sometimes colloquially refer to traits like “conversational turn-taking” and “average social sensitivity” as aspects of what’s known as psychological safety – a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” Psychological safety is “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,” Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999. It describes a team climate characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”
“For Project Aristotle, research on psychological safety pointed to particular norms that are vital to success. There were other behaviours that seemed important as well – like making sure teams had clear goals and creating a culture of dependability. But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.”
Next Step: Embracing differences
Good workplace relationships can be difficult to achieve but not impossible. Project Aristotle tells us that we all want a safe space and be accepted as ourselves at work.
While we all have our parts to play, the one thing that’s the same for all of us is that we are compelled by our values. Let’s bring understanding and empathy back into the workplace.
” Maybe that’s the one thing the Millennials can teach the rest of us: that work is the means to help reach our goals but not the end goal itself. They are going to do it differently, and like it or not, better be ready. Once this generation fully takes over, our workplaces will never be the same.”
– John Hollon, Millennials at the Gate