It’s A War: Baby Boomer Vs. Millennial

Can’t we just get along? I am speaking specifically about the two most dominant populations in the workforce – one group which is leaving the workforce and the other just entering the workforce interacting in all businesses today. Those organizations engaging people, not labels, will win more and more often.

Let’s see which group you best identify with. How many of you:

1. Want an impact in your work
2. Want your work to be accurate not just close enough
3. Wish you could talk back to the bosses when they are being rude
4. Like the ability to text and love GPS
5. Think bureaucracy slows everything down
6. Believe some departments are missing the big picture
7. Enjoy having some “me” time
8. Like to avoid delays that prevent work getting done quickly
9. Would prefer feeling less controlled and having more autonomy (fewer bosses looking at their watch while you are working)

Get it? We aren’t that much different. What is different is how we were raised by our parents and teachers. Our experiences are significantly different, through no fault of our own, only based on the timing of our birth. And yet we hold others accountable for statements or expectations of communications that aren’t the same as our upbringing; we grade them as just so wrong! Everybody’s a judge!  

We roll our eyes at each other and we talk about the other group like they are totally misguided.  

Here are 3 millennial and baby boomer experiences that shape our world based on our past, and inform our self-talk today.

Baby Boomers:

War and the draft
If you got good grades and went to college, you may have avoided the draft and the Vietnam war. Being drafted was not optional, it was a duty, just like paying taxes. And the military has a different mindset than ‘where’s my trophy?” The external requirements to either avoid this devastating war or survive Vietnam were rigorous, inflexible, and unforgiving.

Unions and hard goods
Punching time-clocks, scheduled and whistled breaks, and absenteeism were all the management we knew. Labor was discussed, not talent. We were simple hands and feet performing labor. The manufacturing era talked in terms of labor, not an intellectual mindset to discuss talent.

The Depression
Baby boomer parents saved and scrimped for everything, as having a job was a gift from heaven. So many lost everything and had nothing. The mindset became about holding on and saving, not thinking about what’s next.  What’s next was poverty. Government in those days defended rights, unlike today where it provides things.

Downside risk of these experiences? Anxiety, stress, and depression leading to alcohol use, tobacco use, gambling, and divorce. And none of that was ok to talk about.  


Poor future view
They watched their parents drone through their work as a badge of honor, accrue perfect attendance records, and then die unhappy and rich but still unfulfilled. Millennials want work, learning, and fun to be one big ball. Live for today; tomorrow is scary.

Student debt
There are no pensions and few stock option plans. Credit card and student loan debt is crushing the millennial view of their future. Student loans on average are 10% of a graduates monthly expenses.

One half of all people living in Manhattan are single. There are fewer children born to this generation in the US than ever before. Marriages are occurring much later in life. In opposition to the boomer “hold on” mentality, now it’s “don’t share.”

Downside risk of these experiences? Fear of falling behind, weaker social skills, and a lack of sleep.

Here’s some Good News!

Key benefits of baby boomers today:

1. They are well networked and they have many more experiences, resources, and methods for solving complex problems.

2. They have excellent emotional experience, and they don’t get so easily rattled. They have seen numerous situations which gives they a sense of calm and strength of perspective to aid in sound judgements and wise decision making. They can size up opportunities and people quickly.

3. They have the potential to be very tactful and professional.

 4. They are more internally motivated – it’s less about career laddering or being compensation driven. Lifestyle and expectations for earning among the boomers are more established. This gives Boomers more freedom as savings and pensions are what they are, and already securely in place. They work hard.

Key benefits of Millennials today:

1. Fast beats slow. When dinosaurs roamed the earth it was Big beats Small and it used to be that companies like Chrysler, Sears, GM, and IBM ruled. Today Fast beats Slow. Twitter, Instagram, Go Daddy, and Uber rule. Big built bureaucracy; fast builds ideas. Millennials think, communicate, and live in the fast, and that is the new winning. Fast also includes a more diverse workplace than the baby boomer era. Upward of 50% of the talent pool is women. Millennials are more capable of building the workplace diversity than the boomers, who were 85% men.  

2. Millennials are masters of technology and through technology they have superior knowledge and connectivity to get work done. Resumes used to be about you; the new resume is about who you know. Knowledge is in everybody’s hand, and millenials excel at idea-generation, imagining, and being creative. They work smarter.

3. Millennials look for purpose and meaning and are less focused on simple happiness, more driven to provide impactful purposeful fulfilling results. Making a difference in the community and world gives them a higher sense of global citizenry, and makes it less about being a consumer.

4. They respond to encouragement and it should not be underestimated. Amazon, Blizzard, Google, Facebook, Zappos and many other brands are listening and responding with millennial focussed environments, driving amazing engagement and results.

The number one job of a leader is to build empathetic trust. Sneers and rolling eyes have no place in this discussion. Generational “labels” only serve to discriminate and alienate, and that is not a formula for winning or for leadership discussions.

The best teams are cheerleaders for each other!

Lose the labels; Win the dialogue!


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