Maybe baby boomers need to embrace Millennials

In early October we ran a piece we thought was important: Lee McEnany Caraher, CEO of Double Forte PR in San Francisco, offered Five Tips for Millennials — the generation born roughly between the mid-1980s and the start of the 21st Century — working with Baby Boomers. Well now, she has turned that theme on its head, and this time says if Baby Boomers want to stay relevant at work, maybe we need to embrace Millennials.

After I wrote “5 Tips For Millennials Working with Boomers,” I received a flurry of feedback — so now, for the people who asked, here’s the other side of the coin: tips for Boomers to work effectively with Millennials.

Lee McEnany Caraher

Lee McEnany Caraher

But first, I want to give a bit of context for that flipped coin.

For most of us Boomers (I qualify as the youngest of Boomers), it’s not just a question of “getting along with” Millennials. The question is increasingly, “How do we stay relevant in today’s job market,” or “How will I stay gainfully employed for the next 10-15 years preparing for retirement?”, or “How do I report to someone so many years younger than me?”

I believe the key for Boomers to stay relevant and valuable in the workplace, now and in the future, is to be known for working well with Millennials (and GenXers).

What’s it take to be known for working well with Millennials?

For some people, nothing -– you’ve got it.

But for many others, it takes couple of small shifts and a better understanding of your younger colleagues. I learned this the hard way. Bottom line, we need to appreciate our younger teammates for the giftsthey bring to the party, while also helping (read “mentoring”) them to reach their own goals.

NPR just started a new series by Millennial reporters called #NewBoom.Take a listen or read this great first story, “Why You Should Start Taking Millennials Seriously.” Reporter Selena Simmons-Duffin makes a great point: “Because Millennials look different en masse than generations past, the future is going to look different too. They’ve already led the country to massive shifts in opinion on social issues over the past decade.”


So since most of us are going to need them before we retire, what can we do right now to start building a positive reputation among Millennials?

Here are my five tips … Five Tips for Boomers Who Want To Stay Relevant

  1. Understand the Millennial Mindset. Don’t just accept the narrative that Millennials are entitled. I believe the people who are called “entitled” have been conditioned by a culture of “everyone wins,” constant praise, rewards for merely showing up (regardless of participation or contribution), grade inflation (do not get me started), and helicopter parenting that mitigates children’s ability to learn and correct. I don’t think Millennials want anything different from their older co-workers; rather, they’ve been conditioned to say they do. Millennials are change-makers, they’re contributors, they’re capable. The bottom line is, they show up confident. And, in the cases where Millennials are working for Boomers (it’s the other way around in lots of places), it’s up to Boomers to take all that energy, channel it, and learn from it.
  2. Let them contribute. Raised to know they matter in a flat world where everyone is one click awayfrom everyone else and from any information, Millennials expect to have more input into their workday than their Boomer or GenX coworkers ever did. Let them. Know that providing opportunities for input where it’s possible is a key factor not just in retaining Millennials in your workplace, but gaining trust. Ask for their opinion and you’ll get some great answers.
  3. Show them why their workmatters. I heard over and over from virtually every Millennial I interviewed for my book that they weren’t interested in work that didn’t “matter.” Yes, that’s naïve -– who employs people for work that doesn’t matter? At the same time, it just takes a few minutes to explain why the work matters and how their presence impacts the team and the task at hand.
  4. Don’t hold back. Set expectations respectfully, early, and clearly, and reinforce them often. Don’t assume anyone else has the same “should know that” list as you do. Take the time to spell out expected results, deadlines, dependencies, etc. before the work gets started. Ask for input on “How can we make this work?” or “How can we maximize results?” at the beginning of a project. If you have certain hours you expect people to be available, tell them-– it’s hardly fair to tell someone at month three that they’ve been coming in late every day for 90 days when you didn’t tell them when they needed to be in. After all, they can’t see you in the office at 8 if they get to the office at 9.
  5. Get a Millennial Mentor. We can learn a lot from our younger brethren. If you don’t want an official Millennial Mentor, take a few Millennials to lunch and find out what they’re interested in, how they consume media, how they view the world. Read what they read. Get onto Instagram and Twitter to experience how information flows. Put on their glasses for a while to get a better sense of their viewpoint. It will enrich your work, help you understand, and make you a better boss or teammate or employee.

It will keep you relevant.

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. Click here to contact her.

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1 Comment

  1. LOVE the concept of a Millennial Mentor.

    In addition to that yearly “Take Your Kid To Work” day, we can have a “Take a Millennial To Lunch” day! Once a month, though, instead of once a year.)

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