Generational conflicts are a normal part of human interaction.  For many of us, our values, tastes, and habits are shaped by the period in which we grew up.  For centuries, older folks have been cringing at youthful fashion trends and younger folks have been rolling their eyes at their elders’ reluctance to adapt to evolving technology or social norms.  But when these generational conflicts occur in the workplace, the challenge becomes more acute.

The economic recession of the late 2000s has created a climate in which Baby Boomers are delaying retirement out of financial necessity.  With little or no savings, they don’t have much of an option.  Meanwhile, millions of Millennials (aged around 18-30) enter an incredibly competitive labor market with few skills and fewer opportunities to develop them.

Baby Boomers feel overworked and unappreciated, and Millennials often feel the same way.  Both cohorts face age discrimination and have a tough time landing jobs in the current market.  For Millennials, it is often frustrating to be stuck in entry-level positions for potentially years and some see the Baby Boomers as crowding a job market that should be reserved for younger generations.  For Baby Boomers, these younger workers seem undisciplined, picky, and egocentric.

In an MTV study called “No Collar Workers”, Millennials show that they have very different ideas than Baby Boomers about their jobs and careers.  Baby Boomers are used to a more structured environment, and prefer less feedback.  Millennials want to wear jeans to work every day and have flexible hours.  Additionally, in part because of how they were raised (ironically often by Baby Boomers), Millenials seek meaning and purpose in their jobs.  89% agree “it’s important to be constantly learning at my job.”  (http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/170109/turning-on-the-no-collar-workforce.html)

Luckily, the two generational cohorts have a lot to teach each other.  Baby Boomers can teach Millennials the value and ability to use “soft skills” when dealing with coworkers and clients, while tech-savvy Millenials can help their Baby Boomer coworkers increase their social media fluency. (http://maureenopene.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/baby-boomer-inspired-guide-trends-2012/)

As retirement ages rise, there will be more people from more generations working together.  The Millennials are a huge cohort (thanks to the Baby Boomers) and will transform the workplace as we know it in the coming years.  With their emphasis on meritocracy and finding “meaning” in their jobs, with any luck this will be a good environment for people from multiple generations to get along.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2012
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