Part I: What Millennials Can Learn from Baby Boomers

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A manager giving his millennial worker feedback to better improve his overall performance on the job.A recent Huffington Post article carried this provocative headline: “Millennials Work Better.” The article went on to make the case for why millennials have a range of strengths that make them well-suited for the workplace. It also served up a refreshing break from the tired stereotypes that dog millennial workers.

That being said, the headline also perpetuates the ongoing us-vs-them narrative that relentlessly compares baby boomers’ work strengths and styles with those of millennials.

Likely a better conversation should focus on what each generation can learn from the other as they work together in a range of different settings. In this two-part blog series, we’ll take a deeper dive into what these two generations of workers stand to learn from one another.

Part I: What Millennials can learn from Boomers

With deep experience, a renowned work ethic and capabilities and skills honed over decades, boomers can teach millennials many things, such as…

Navigating workplace politics:

Surely many millennials would like to see the hierarchy of organizations flattened and the workplace politics vanquished. Yet the reality is that hierarchies and politics exist – and always will to some extent or another. Successful boomers have mastered the fine art of navigating the workplace culture, and their insights and actions can be instructive. Colleen Dilenschneider, a millennial who advises nonprofit leaders, many of whom are boomers, blogged recently that she has gleaned valuable lessons from older colleagues and clients. She has learned the millennial tendency to casually approach anyone on the job, regardless of title or experience, is jarring to many boomers – and probably not the best career move. “Abiding by a protocol is not compromising the integrity of our ideas – it is a smart tactic to ensure that our ideas gain the maximum traction in the eyes of leadership,” she writes.

Stick-to-itiveness:

It’s not unusual for a boomer to be in a job – or work on a particular task – that he or she doesn’t much enjoy or gain any considerable satisfaction from. While the millennial instinct is to quickly start looking for work that is more engaging and enriching, the boomer capacity to see a task through to its completion is a valuable skill. While millennials will never be the type to stay in a dead-end job for years, there is a great deal to be learned by sticking with a project to its completion — even if it wasn’t fun or inspiring.

Soft skills:

Occasionally, a millennial will observe a boomer talking for an extended period of time into a device that has traditionally been known as a telephone. A simple phone conversation is one example of soft skills that are second nature to boomers, and not so much for millennials. A Bentley University study found a clear disconnect between the skills that business leaders and millennials deem important. The leaders put higher value on professionalism and attitude while millennials emphasized technical capabilities. Technical skills can likely land you a job, but it is the soft skills – your ability to interact effectively with colleagues and customers – that will help you advance. Take cues from boomers on how they present themselves and interact with a range of people.

Experience:

Even in our wired world, experience remains a capable teacher, if not the best. Boomers will always have an edge when it comes to this category and it is difficult to duplicate the many skills and lessons that are learned through experience. As millennial guru Nathaniel Kolec puts it, boomers have “intangible wisdom that comes from decades of forming and living through relationships, projects, and experiences.” Millennials should guard against immediately dismissing the “old approach” and attitudes that boomers bring to a task. While it may not always be the best way, it’s bound to be borne out of hard-earned experience, and therefore, instructive.
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