millennials in workplace

Working with People Across Ages and Generations

millennials in workplace

I’ve written before about the “digital divide” that I’ve seen in the workplace, which started quite a few years ago. In fact, it was the impetus behind my publishing a book in 2016 entitled: Digital Influence for Baby Boomers: Why you should care and yes, you can do this!

As the title implies, I was speaking to those in the Baby Boomer generation (born from 1946 – 1964), encouraging them to be agile in their digital learning and to understand why it’s important to keep up and “be a part of” the digital age. I created a framework in which every person can measure his or her digital influence: how they are influenced by others, digitally, and how they influence those around them.

The issues between Baby Boomers and Millennials in the workplace has evolved into an “us” vs. “them” issue. Here are some statistics from a 2015 survey of 617 people who work at large companies (500+ employees), in which individuals were asked to rank themselves and others on key factors, ranging from “hardest workers” to “biggest roadblocks.”

Here’s what the Baby Boomers said about the Millennials:

  • Only 1% think Millennials have the strongest work ethic
  • Only 6% consider Millennials the hardest works OR the most productive
  • 76% say Millennials are the least likely to take responsibility

It doesn’t look any better the other way, either.

Here’s what Millennials think of Baby Boomers:

  • Only 1% think Baby Boomers are the most tech-savvy generation
  • Only 2% think Baby Boomers are the most creative generation
  • 54% say Baby Boomers are the biggest roadblocks in the workplace

Looking at survey results three years later, here are some interesting statistics:

  • Almost 60% of workers responding said that their companies are going through “digital transformation.”
  • Millennials (51%) are more likely than Gen X (46%) and Baby Boomers (40%) to say their team is requesting more automation tools to help manage workflows – but their executives are not on board.
  • Looking at just one platform, Instant Messaging, shows how different generations see its effectiveness for internal communication. Millennials (54%) think IM is an effective communication tool between leadership and employees, while only 39% of Boomers agree.

With regard to inter-generational hostility, there’s some good news. Back in the 2015 survey, 67% of Baby Boomers believed that Millennials are the most tech-savvy generation, and many (32%) thought Millennials are also the “most creative” generation, as opposed to their Baby Boomer peers (20%).

But that sense of respect does not flow the other way, it seems. In ranking their Baby Boomer counterparts, Millennials put them at the bottom of every single positive category, including how hard they worked, how productive they were, their work ethic, skills, creativity, trouble-shooting, and problem-solving.

It should be noted that Millennials were hard on themselves, too. Just over half (54%) noted that their peers were the least likely to take responsibility (which is far more harshly than they judged the Baby Boomers, at 13%). And almost half (49%) indicated that their peers are the biggest complainers.

All of this data indicates there’s a lot of work to be done to bridge the current generation gap in the workplace. But is it so different from the generations before?

As a Baby Boomer myself, I can remember having similar feelings when I was started working, looking at the “older generation” before me. Those older workers, now dubbed the “greatest generation,” seemed to constantly grumble that the new, young workers wanting to “move up the ladder” too quickly and not paying their dues, or working hard enough, etc.

So, will there always be a generation gap? And what’s the solution? My opinion is that it’s up to the Baby Boomers to figure this out. Why? Because they are the bosses, most often, or the ones in charge. And if not – if they are peers with Millennials on their team – they are still older and wiser (or should be) and can think creatively (I know they can!). It’s a matter of finding out what’s important to each individual you work with. Millennials may not have the maturity or the power to do this on their own so it’s up to their elders to show them how it’s done.

One good way is to find areas of mutual concern and to educate each generation about the other. This can be done in workshops, for example, teaching Baby Boomers about what Millennials care about, and vice versa. I’ve done this for large organizations and seen the positive results; in fact, I was hired by a Millennial, who ran a digital marketing team, and she wanted me to help her bosses to understand what she and her team did and why they needed budget. I not only helped them do that, I also helped them create their marketing strategy around their organization’s strategic goals.

The results: not only did the team get their funding – they also created an entirely new strategy the following year, based on their organization’s goals.

There are many ways to bring the different generations together – all it takes is a little imagination and some effort. And we know both Baby Boomers AND Millennials can do that, don’t we?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on this! I’ve conducted workshops that have helped. What have you tried? Please let me know in the comments below.


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