Five tips for Millennials working with Boomers

Ever wonder what younger generations think about us? Especially about working with us? Lee McEnany Caraher, CEO of Double Forte PR in San Francisco and an active mentor, just wrote a piece which offers advice to Millennials — that’s people born roughly between the mid-1980s and the start of the 21st Century — the generation otherwise known as GenY (as opposed to GenX, which falls between them and us). A baby boomer herself, she offers Five Tips for Millennials Working With Boomers.

“Boomers are so bitter,” said one millennial whom I interviewed for my book about inter-generational workplaces.

Lee McEnany Caraher

Lee McEnany Caraher

As a Boomer, I bit my tongue, and did my best to listen loudly to what she described as the dynamic in her workplace. And then in my next interview I heard the same thing, and in the next one, and the next one. In the end it became clear that as many questions Boomers have about how to work with Millennials, Millennials have about working with Boomers.

Millennials, you have a lot to offer, but you aren’t always helping yourselves to get heard, here are 5 tips to breaking through to your seemingly “bitter” boomer colleagues:

  1. Do it Their Way Before you fix it. You, no doubt, have many ideas about how to improve the work and/or the work process, and your ideas CAN make a big positive difference for everyone on your team. However, your Boomer colleagues may have done these things the same way for years without looking for how new techniques or technology could improve their processes. Instead of jumping in before you’ve even started, do the work their way BEFORE you change anything. Once you’ve got their way down, ask if you could suggest a different way to get to the same result and offer to go step by step with them to make sure you’re not missing anything. By asking to go step-by-step you are showing that you respect their process and want to make sure you’re not compromising the work (there may be a reason that steps 4-12 exist that you might not know).
  2. Ask for the unsaid specifics. Boomers don’t always tell you everything you need to know. We grew up in our careers with a lot of the same concepts simply understood, and never spoken. So you might be told “I need this tomorrow,” but then when you deliver it the next day, be told you were late. So when someone says “tomorrow” or “later” or “by the end of the week,” it’s on you to ask “what time tomorrow?” “by when?” or “when are you leaving on Friday so I can get it to you before then.”
  3. “Draft” doesn’t actually mean “Draft.” To a Boomer, “draft” means ready for distribution in case they can’t look at it. And that means, detailed and well written, correct format (don’t know? Ask) and no typos. Trust me.
  4. A little old style respect goes a long way. Boomers and Xers are used to a hierarchy that’s foreign to most of their younger colleagues. We weren’t friends with our friends’ parents. We may have called our first bosses Mr. Smith or Ms. Brown, not by their first names. So just blurting out your thoughts about the office or the industry to your boss’s boss’s boss may just result in a deer-in-the-headlights response that doesn’t yield the result you intend. So figure out how to be heard in your organization before you ask for time with the CEO. What are the ways or protocol your office has to communicate and provide input? Paying attention to this will make your ideas heard much more loudly and with more respect and impact than sticking out like a sore thumb by acting out of character for your office.
  5. Find a Boomer mentor who can help you translate. If your company has a mentorship program, get in it once you have the lay of the land, so you have someone in the company who can help translate and advocate for you. Read more here about setting up a productive mentorship. If you don’t have someone in the company you can ask, find someone you trust outside of the company (not at a competitor or media company for conflict reasons).

This may seem like these are extra steps, sometimes though it’s up to you to figure out how best to contribute so you can be heard by your older colleagues. Follow these tips and I think you’ll find yourself less frustrated and making a bigger impact in the workplace.

Lee Caraher’s compilation of best practices will help organizations make the most of a cross-generational workforce and build a more productive and positive workplace. Contact her here.

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  1. Good tips, but I understand why many millennials want to change things in the workplace. Many places where I worked had oppressive hirerarchies that were discouraging places to work in. It would be a big gift if boomers could fix that before they move on.

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