The stereotypes of baby boomers and millennials is a well worn topic. Steady boomers are portrayed as rigid in their ways, always a few steps behind with technology, and constantly saying “back when I…(didn’t have a cell phone, or, had to do it by hand)” to make a point to younger ears. On the other hand, offbeat millennials are widely thought to be social media crazed narcissists, resistant to hierarchy, and eternally uncertain about their career decisions.
Not only are these perceptions short-sighted, they’re fracturing our workplaces. Both generations have valuable skills and traits that complement the other. The big question is — how do we strengthen and encourage this relationship in the quickly changing office landscape?
Mass retirement might be around the corner, but baby boomers still comprise 40% of the workforce and are poised to continue working well past the previous retirement age of 60. They may not be the priority of recruitment in the modern workplace, but they have the resources and knowhow to shape its future — at the end of the day, boomers hold 80% of the U.S.’s personal net worth and have ~$30 trillion to pass down in the next 20 years.
Despite comprising such a large segment of the workforce and holding most of the wealth, the rapid adoption of dynamic team structures, dependency on tech, and peer-to-peer management styles used to attract millennials have marginalized older generations and radically changed job requirements, forcing an entire generation to learn new skills or fear obsolescence. This new work landscape has cast boomers as stubbornly out of touch, ultimately creating the lackluster stereotype that comes to mind.
However, this cultural shift should not be viewed as an out with the old & in with the new storyline. Despite a shift toward millennial-oriented workplaces, older employees have remained up-to-date with industry trends and technologies and have established themselves as innovative leaders in the modern work environment. This is to be expected from the best-educated, most highly skilled work demographic in U.S. history that institutionalized equal pay, affirmative action, progressive health and retirement benefits, and constitutes more than half of all current managers.
To sum it up — boomers have the experience, positioning, and the capital that millennials need to succeed. As this generational shift picks up speed, boomers will pass down their experience, resources, and capital to younger generations that will fill their void post-retirement. Herein lies the challenge: How do we ensure that younger generations are receiving the best advice and support to become the leaders our workforce will soon desperately need?
At the heart of the ‘generational divide’ on the millennial side are cliched depictions of millennial work ideologies, mostly championed by older generations. Although the millennial worker often expects a ‘progressive’ workplace culture where each employee is heard and acknowledged, they do not assume this to be simply achieved with happy hours, kickball teams, and lounge room decor. At a deeper level, they desire workplaces that are tech-forward, promote their personal development and health, and emphasize transparent, direct, and honest communication. They expect progress to originate from fair and just management practices, corporate flexibility, and, like the boomers before them, want to be the generation that solves large-scale global issues.
Contrary to splashy headlines, these desires do not translate to reduced output and a poor work ethic. Millennials have made their true intentions known by making systems more efficient through smarter design, and leveraging technology and teamwork to speed up processes and drive progress. This mindset, coupled with the fact that millennials will soon constitute the largest demographic to ever enter the workforce, is a reassuring sign for what’s to come.
Ditching the Stereotypes
So, how do we dissolve these conflicting stereotypes and strengthen ties between the two generations?
Cultivating workplaces where employees of different ages are equally engaged—inspired even— is the goal. In order to achieve this, companies must find ways to celebrate cultural differences across age groups, instead of trying to synthesize a new homogenous culture altogether. There are a range of viable solutions to consider, like restructuring team dynamics, encouraging personal skill growth and skill sharing, and engaging employees across age-groups in various on and off-site social events.
Another emerging trend is to challenge employees individually and in small groups to become more open-minded and empathetic towards colleagues from different generations. With advancements in personalized feedback platforms (wearables, health apps, and digital tools) it’s possible to receive real-time information on behavioral strengths and weaknesses and measure how they change over time. For example, maybe you subconsciously discredit older employees because you think they are uncreative, or withhold certain projects from a younger colleague because of age-related trust issues. No matter how open-minded someone is, biases exist for everyone and continuous and personal feedback could help put things in perspective.
Companies have caught on and are exploring ways to generate this quantifiable data to help their employees become more mindful by emphasizing how they fit into the bigger picture and why their outlook matters. Digital tools, such as employee engagement analytics, are being used to:
1. Provide managers with a real-time company pulse by collecting and evaluating employee data and sentiment.
2. Provide measurable insights into key challenges that can be used to devise company-specific strategies to strengthen culture across age gaps.
3. Engage employees to drive healthy habits and create strong brand ambassadorship.
These digital tools are part of a comprehensive solution, and they can provide the foundation to make steps in the right direction. By combining more employee data, identifying company cultural concerns, and improving behavioral health at an individual scale, organizations can ensure that they are driving collaboration and actually benefitting from their age diversity to increase productivity and strengthen company culture.
The occasional happy hour can’t hurt either :)
Psocratic is a proactive behavioral health platform on a mission to advance workplace culture and wellness. Schedule a demo or say hello: firstname.lastname@example.org 🙌