Advice to Millennials Working with Baby Boomers

I wrote a blog a couple of months ago titled “I Hate Millennials!!” The title was misleading as I was writing about how to work with millennials and the positive effects they had on promotional products companies that welcomed and embraced them in their organizations. I had a lot of positive and negative response to that blog. It certainly hit a nerve. As a result, I thought a follow up blog directed to millennials would make sense to start the new year on how to work with and embrace baby boomers. Here goes.

I am 57 years old. I was born and raised and still live in the Midwest. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Being Greek, it only made sense that my family was in the restaurant business. I was mopping floors and cooking and washing dishes before the age of 12. I worked every summer from like nine-years-old on. All of my parents’ friends owned small businesses. That’s all I knew. That’s why I think I have had modest success in the promo industry.

Working together with baby boomers

I am a baby boomer. I am proud of that. Baby boomers were born from 1946 through 1964. I was born in 1960. The term baby boomer comes from the baby boom that took place when so much of the U.S. population returned from WWII and started having babies. We were the children of war veterans and people who grew up in the depression era. Those were tough times and tough people. They had to be. We were raised to be independent and deal with things on our own. I remember when I left for college in 1979, my Dad told me to not screw up because I was never coming home again to live and I had one shot at it. He meant he was only paying for college if I stayed in school and I would never live at home again. That wasn’t mean, that was what love was like in those days. I was raised to get a job, make my own way, buy a home, get married and live happily ever after. It was on me. Period. The love I received as a kid was tough love, but still great love. Be independent, go outside and play with your friends, make us proud kind of stuff.

When I was growing up we had no cell phones, no email, no social media and 4 TV channels when we were allowed to watch. My social media was face to face communication. You had to plan things a lot further out. If you met all your friends Friday night at the rink at 8pm and you didn’t get there till 9pm, you never found them and spent the night hanging out with…yourself. We had to improvise a lot and were out in the world all of the time with sports, events, etc. It seemed like life was a lot closer to improv in those days than today. I don’t understand how kids like me in the 70’s who loved the freedom and creativity of being on our own, over scheduled our own kids.

So, although my generation felt love, we didn’t get a lot of hugs and I love yous. We over corrected in creating millennials, our kids. Maybe we felt a lack of hugs and “I love yous” and decided to protect and hug more and give out participation ribbons. I think the more demonstrative form of love baby boomers gave their kids was both good and bad.

Millennials know baby boomers very well, they were raised by them. But, baby boomers are a bit different at work than at home. More like soft at home and tougher at work. Keep that in mind.

Most owners of promotional products distributors and suppliers today are baby boomers. They are looking for succession planning and future leaders. That is a fact. Yet, for some reason business ownership for young people is at an all-time low. I think we all need to work on that. Do we want private equity companies owning all businesses? We need small, family-owned

businesses. They are the secret sauce of America. Who is going to step up and own these companies that provided such great livings for employees and their families?

Many baby boomers find millennials annoying and vice versa, yet there is so much to be gained by these two groups working together. We have so much to learn from each other. Age doesn’t have as much to do with it as you might think. There are old people who think young and young people who think old, so don’t measure it just by age.

What do millennials need to know about baby boomers and so we can all benefit?

  • They are slower to technology, but eager to learn. This is the one area, they will ask YOU a lot of questions! Help us, teach us!

  • They perceive hard work by the hours spent on something, not the quality of output as millennials do. Hard work and putting your head down is how we were raised. Let’s meet in the middle.

  • Success is measured by long weeks of getting things done, not a work/life balance. Baby boomers like making the bed and cutting the grass, they can see the results! Try it, you might like it while teaching us about balance.

  • They like consistency, set a schedule, and repeat it day after day. Boring but rewarding. We find comfort and peace in routines.

  • Loyalty is VERY important to boomers. Many of us have worked in the same place for decades. That gives us perspective and wisdom.

  • They are seen as set in their ways but you can fight through that and be rewarded. Everyone is set in their ways. Look in the mirror. We all want to change but need help.

  • Boomers are process oriented where millennials are project oriented. This is a huge difference that we all have to understand. Let’s seek results together but within a framework that makes sense.

  • Boomers don’t ask a lot of questions and don’t want to be asked a lot of questions, they just put their head down and go. Draw them out; build a relationship to figure out how they think.

So, how can we all succeed together? My experience from 30 years in the work world is that we can all learn from each other. Relationships and communication are the keys to happiness and success in all areas of life. Human beings need each other!

  • Don’t judge. Keep an open mind and live in the moment. Be willing to teach and learn.

  • Try to understand someone you don’t really know before you judge them.

  • Be patient. Be patient. Be patient.

  • Spend time with each other. Ask a co-worker to lunch and get to know them.

  • Move people around so you set up diversity in the office based on age and all measures.

  • Set up diverse project teams and schedule discussion/collaboration time. Expose people to others way of thinking.

  • Listen to each other and meet in the middle. Compromise and try new things.

  • Schedule team-building events to engage with each other.

  • Set up two-way mentorship programs where different generations mentor each other on how they think and approach certain things. Perhaps monthly lunches.

What are the potential benefits? Varied thoughts breed creativity. Communication leads to collaboration. Collaboration leads to creativity and out of the box thinking. Great leaders are great communicators. You might be the next leader or owner of your company if you embrace your differences. Make 2018 your year to start building bridges and going to places you have never been.