Boomers vs. Millennials – The New Cold War

Dear Anita,

My husband and I have been in the workforce for quite some time. We had never had problems getting along with everybody in the past. There is a new generation, however, the Milleniums (I apologize if it is not spelled correctly) that have entered the workforce with disregard and disrespect of any person with more experience than them. We welcome any new employee and are willing to help them. This is not just the cockiness of young people that are coming out of college and think they know it all. This generation is different and we are having a hard time working with them. Do you have any suggestions on how to interact with them? Have you had other people with this problem?

Boomer Millennial conflictDear, Bothered Boomer,

Workforces may consist of a mix of generations, from Matures (also called Traditionalists) born before 1945, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (1965-1979), Millennials (1980-2000), and the up-and-coming generation born after 2001 (as yet not officially named – The Post Generation? Homelanders? Generation Z? iGen?). By 2020, according to the University of North Carolina (UNC), Millennials will comprise nearly half of the U.S. labor workforce.

A poll by the Society for Human Resource Management  finds that nearly three-quarters of HR professionals report some level of intergenerational conflict.  “Can’t we all just get along?” (This Rodney King reference is before the Millennials’ time.)

Millennials’ top 3 complaints about older workers:

  • Resistance to change
  • Low recognition of workers’ efforts
  • Micromanaging

Younger workers are criticized most for:

  • Inappropriate dress
  • Poor work ethic
  • Excessively informal language and behavior

UNC likens Boomers and Gen Xers to cowboys – an individualistic lot with a command and control management style. Millennials are tech-savvy, socially conscious collaborators. According to PayScale’s whitepaper, Compensation Challenges for a Multi-Generational Workforce, Boomer’s career mindset is retirement and work/life balance, while younger Gen X concentrates on management with work/life balance. Millennials are go-getters focused on advancement with flexibility. Boomers tend to stay on the job 15+ years, Gen Xers’ average tenure is around 5+ years, and Millennials stay 1.5-2 years.

But there are some commonalities, according to UNC researcher Ben Rosen. Generations from Boomers down to Millennials expect the following from their employers:

  • Multigenerational_Employees_iStock_000015633250_LargeChallenging projects
  • Competitive compensation
  • Opportunities for advancement and chances to learn and grow in their jobs
  • Fair treatment
  • Work-life balance

By focusing on shared values rather than differences, we can find some common ground. Mutual respect is the key. Each generation can bring something to the mix and create a stronger team.

To improve interactions with another generation, treat others as they want to be treated, to paraphrase the golden rule (before any of our studied generations’ time!). For pointers on Gen-Flexing (not to be confused with genuflecting), check out this video on managing Matures and Boomers, then view Part 2 for Gen X and Millennials:

Readers: Is there generational conflict at your workplace? What steps have you taken to better relate to an older or younger coworker?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maribel Ramos
    Mar 04, 2015 @ 12:53:27

    So true and disappointing. I’m 46, and I have been working since 13, the last approximately 15, or so years respect, honesty, ethics, compassion, real hard work does not seem to matter. The more aggressive and dishonest the employee the better their status is with management. Really disgusted with most corporate environments.


  2. Issac Williams
    Mar 03, 2015 @ 18:00:25

    Dear Anita I have been seeking a job for a little while. I also tried applying to select staffing in my area but I had no luck thank you for your time Anita


  3. Keven Rodriguez
    Mar 03, 2015 @ 08:38:55

    Dear Anita, I have been seeking a job for a little while, I also worked with select Staffing in the past but I didn’t last long because I moved. I’m currently seeking warehouse work in the city of Pico Rivera. I also tried applying to select staffing in my area but I had no luck, thank you for your time Anita.


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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