In case you haven’t heard, the “OK, Boomer” meme made its way across the Internet this fall and became a catch-all putdown by younger workers of their older counterparts. And the older generation of Baby Boomers concocted its own creative response— “OK, Millennials”—to inspire what the New York Times called “the end of friendly generational relations.” That’s probably a bit too much drama and too much of an exaggeration for most peoples’ tastes, but it’s a topic worth addressing in light of the four generations in America’s workplace today.
Baby Boomers and Millennials (AKA “Gen-Y”) have one critical demographic connection in common—they’re both the largest generations in size and influence in U.S. history. Boomers (born 1945 – 1964) represent the first American generation to reach 77 million, only to be topped by the Gen-Y Millennials (born 1980 – 1996) at 90 million. These two massive generational cohorts witnessed the greatest expansion of U.S. and, indeed, global growth in the history of economics and technology, from network television to cable to the Internet, from broadcasting to narrow-casting to mono-casting. Now we just have to figure out how to get them to play nicely with one another in the workplace.
Millennials vs. Boomers in the Workplace
As of 2015, one in every three employees in the U.S. became a Millennial, and by 2025 they’ll make up 75% of the global workforce. Different from their Boomer counterparts, Millennials perceive a lack of job security as normal, they generally believe that businesses should focus on societal good and contribute to the environment, and they feel empowered by the information at their fingertips and the generous emotional support of their parents.
The rub? Baby Boomers have interpreted the younger generation’s sense of empowerment as a form of entitlement. They believe their younger cohorts are overly sensitive and dismissive of their outdated ideas and their lack of understanding of digital and social media, and they sense some sort of blame for leaving a legacy of polarized politics, environmental calamity, and social and economic anxiety. In comparison, Millennials feel that “Ok, Boomer” is a valid response to an older generation that is dismissive of their progressive ideas, resentful of the valid complaints they share, and out-of-touch with today’s realities.
With such an eclectic mix of generations, worldviews, and experiences, how can you as an employer hope to create harmony and alignment in the workplace—especially when younger boomers (now in their 50s) may be reporting to older Millennials (now in their 30s and 40s)? Simple—by making time to discuss this with your team.
Good Managers Start Conversations
As a society, we’ve lost the art of sitting around the campfire, passing around the peace pipe, and permitting elders to pass on their wisdom to up-and-coming generations. Now is the time to begin the conversation, and it can sound like this: