Rumor has it that millennials are projected to make up 40 percent of the workforce by 2020. While that number may be relieving, it still leaves 60 percent for the baby boomers (or thereabouts — a section of that percentage is Gen X and Zers). Regardless, all of the Baby Boomers aren’t sipping margaritas and enjoying their retirements just yet. For now, baby boomers are still moving around in the office making dated references and projecting their “I’m getting old” existential crises onto the rest of us. Yeah. Here’s how to survive a workplace brimming with generational differences.
One of the first and foremost ways to survive a baby boomer workplace — and life, for that matter — is through understanding that there will be differences. It is natural and it is inevitable. The millennial generation, with all their savvy (especially when it comes to technology), still are the undisputable newcomers to the workforce. As such, they will be tasked to “prove themselves.” While this may seem fundamentally unjust when many will argue, the baby boomers have torpedoed the nation in oh so many ways — but that is just the way it is. Newcomers prove themselves. It has been this way since time immemorial (Read: forever!).
The plus side to all of this inevitable intermingling is that everyone truly can learn from everyone else. The sun can learn from the moon, dogs can learn from porcupines and millennials can learn from baby boomers (as well as vice versa!). Whether we want to admit it, baby boomers have the know-how by virtue of the fact that they have been around longer. Regardless of intelligence, savvy or any other number of debatable skills and qualities, it is a fact that baby boomers have more experience, probably more company contacts and more professional relationships. Not to mention more positions of power.
Therefore, consider enlisting one to be your mentor. He or she can teach you how to navigate workplace politics, make that valuable connection and other such learned skill sets. In exchange, you can teach them how to work their Spotify account. Or, you know, how to harness technology to make work output more efficient and productive.
Just as understanding is important, it is also vital that you be confident and stand your ground when you know what you are doing is right. If you want to change something, or adapt it, know that you are going to be up against a generation that is often inflexible and mired in their ways (It’s not their fault. It is a solemn rite of passage for the older generation to become crotchety about the “new ways,” as if it were a family heirloom handed down). The baby boomer(s) might not want to adapt. They just want to finish off their careers and get out. That may not involve them learning new strategies and methodologies for greater workplace efficiency. They often don’t care about that.
But if you know you have something valuable to offer — a way to better “get with the times” — then do not shrink from confrontation. Just know how to be civil and smart about how you confront them. Don’t, for instance, throw the kitchen toaster at a baby boomer.
Again, millennials are pretty much the youngest employees walking around the work floor. As such, it is natural that you are looked on with skepticism, maybe even distrust. Plus, baby boomers see in you their younger selves, and so they probably have some resentment there and take it out on you. Hopefully, they have a therapist to deal with those important issues and projections!
When older employees doubt your abilities, don’t buckle, become bitter or grow sullen. Instead, be resilient, double down and work harder than the rest. The worst thing that you can do is take it personally. That goes for most things: The stronger you are, the less you take things personally. Even when … well, even when they could be justifiably be taken personally. Having a positive, friendly attitude and showing that you’re an excellent employee are ways to get respect. Also, I know that you don’t want to hear it, but, be open to criticism and advice every now and then as well.
If you want to get ahead you might consider doing things their way every now and then. It doesn’t have to be a sign of weakness per se. For instance, baby boomers often like physical communication rather than an email. So, if you want to make yourself well-liked by the older work staff at your job (not to mention your boss), consider “playing by their rules” from time to time and walking over instead of emailing when you have something to discuss.
Another example of playing by the baby boomers’ rules would be not constantly seeking feedback or expecting it. Avoiding such performance double-checking will be more irksome to baby boomer bosses and coworkers, while millennials grew up in a work climate wherein it was more appropriate to behave in this way. Baby boomers, on the other hand, did the best they could on an assignment. And if they didn’t do something right, rest assured they would hear about it. Until that time, try being comfortable in the uncertainty. While that might sound nerve-wracking to you, it is what baby boomers are both used to doing as employees and expecting as employers. So, consider not running to the boss at the first sign of trouble! They will appreciate it, as most likely, they find it taxing to answer all of those questions. Nevermind if you intend it to be annoying or not!
Although there are tons of differences between baby boomers and millennials — probably more differences than anything else — we are, nonetheless, stuck with each other. Plus, we are all united in our desire to survive the work-week and live our lives. Let’s keep it civil and productive. And, also, remember we can learn from each other every now and then, too!
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