Baby Boomers Invite Millennials To Their Office Party, But Many Don't Stay Long

This article originally appeared on Forbes. Image from psycologytoday.com

by Neale Godfrey

America’s largest living generation, the Baby Boomers, are about to be replaced by Millennials, who will soon become a significant portion of the U.S. workforce. By the end of 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that Millennials will “…number 75.3 million, surpassing the projected 74.9 million Boomers.”

What does this mean? Millions of Millennials are now working side-by-side with Baby Boomers; however, it may feel as if they’ve joined the office party for only a short time, only to head swiftly for the door and onto a new venue. Or, so it seems from the perspective of hiring managers, who were recently polled about Millennial career habits. Surprisingly, many Millennials are still underemployed, despite an emerging job market growing from the recent recession. Fifty-three percent of human resource managers reported “difficulty finding and retaining millennial talent.” The study also discovered that 58% of Millennials expect to stay in their jobs fewer than three years; a stark contrast with Baby Boomers, who typically stay in their jobs for over seven years on average.

So, why are Millennials picky about their careers, especially when they may not even have a steady job? Another poll may have revealed some of the possible reasons. Millennials, who we Baby Boomers raised, saw us working our nails to the bone. They noticed that we were missing their soccer games. They heard us complaining about our bosses. And, they also found us devoting so much time because we counted on work longevity, only to be “downsized.”

An article in Time states, “Among other things, Millennials… want flexible work schedules, more ‘me time’ on the job, and nearly non-stop feedback and career advice from managers.” They also want to be “No Collar Workers” and wear jeans to work, not to mention, open space without walled-in offices.

Ernst & Young conducted a study in 2013, which was highlighted in Business Insider, describing some of the differences between the generations; Millennials are tech-savvy, but aren’t great team players and are not necessarily loyal employees, whereas Baby Boomers tend to be team players and loyal. Unfortunately, Baby Boomers don’t adapt so well to change and technology. Whoa… let’s hold on here a minute. According toFortune, “Millennials have been unfairly saddled with the dubious reputation for being self-centered, disloyal employees.  The fact is that their goals and passions and needs in the workplace aren’t all that different from the Baby Boomer…”

The IBM Institute for Business Value did a little digging into Millennial myths and even debunked some of these notions. They found that Millennials actually “desire financial security, seniority, inspirational leadership, clearly articulated business strategies and performance-based recognition…” the same ways Baby Boomers do. Frankly, who wouldn’t? Here is an interesting finding: Baby Boomers often think that Millennials prefer to learn new skills via digital options; however, many Millennials prefer face-to-face contact. Another myth regarding respect for professional boundaries in social media was looser amongst the youngest members of the Millennial generation (not withstanding some older noted politicians who find “sexting” a viable form of communication), who are not able to draw that firm line separating their personal and professional lives.

Let’s get behind the surveys and understand the differences that we do see and determine why. As W. Stanton Smith, Retired Deloitte Principal, points out in his book,Decoding Generational DifferencesChanging your mindset…Without losing your mind, we Baby Boomers raised this generation. Essentially, we are largely responsible for the values and attitudes of the Millennial generation, but act shocked and surprised at how Millennials comport themselves in professional situations. Smith explains that we were the ones who taught our offspring to question any situation. Millennials “have been raised to be consumers — to question value — to demand and expect high quality, easy-to-handle ‘microwavable experiences.’ This is the world in which they were raised; thus it’s understandable that they carry these expectations with them as they consume everything—including careers.”

Smith relates a story that has baffled Baby Boomers. “On the first day of class, a university accounting professor asked all of her students to state their name, hometown, and what they hoped to get out of the class… A student answered, ‘We would like to know why you believe that you’re qualified to teach us.’ The professor with a 25-year track record was aghast.” Smith delved deeper into this conversation and one student explained that they didn’t think the question was rude telling Smith that, “We’re aware of how much it costs to get a degree—so we want to know that we’re getting value for our parent’s investment.”

So, what’s the answer for blending the generations in the workplace? How about communication? It can be just that simple. Craig Malloy, CEO of Lifesize, discusses in a 2014 Forbes article. He found that “Mentoring can reduce insecurity of older employees, who often feel they can never be as steeped in technical knowledge as co-workers in their 20’s and 30’s. While they may not be as technically adept or as deeply creative with technology as their younger counterparts, they’ve seen countless waves of trends in business.”  Mentorship is for both generations so that they can strike a balance. Malloy recommends that businesses need to “Nurture both technical enthusiasm and business savvy; don’t let one run roughshod over the other.”

As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”  I have great faith in both our generations!