As more “20-somethings” and “under-30s” navigate the many ranks of the workplace, one significant challenge that often emerges is the attitudinal differences among the generations.
As part of Generation Y, I have probably spent a significant part (if not all) of my career working with the Boomers and chances are, you have too. The adage that “age is nothing but a number” isn’t necessarily true as companies and more specifically nonprofits seek talented individuals to lead the helm of their ships, but struggle in handing over the reigns.
Indulge me (and most media analyses about us) in believing some of the facts about our generation and where we are. Although the nonprofit sector is the “third-largest private employer behind retail trade and manufacturing” (Nonprofit Quarterly) and our generation has been pegged as “…a generation that is just more interested in making a difference than making a dollar,” the recession also has created changes in the Boomers who are delaying retirement and effectually holding on as captains of the ships we would like to lead. Data from The Population Reference Bureau, suggests that the number of older workers in the next few years will increase by 11.9 million, meaning nearly 25% of employees will be seniors by 2016. This ‘logjam’ of older workers has also increased the potential for workplace conflict between Generation X & Generation Y.
Our ideological differences run the gamut. From defining what it means to be a “do-gooder” to how we go about getting our jobs done, these differences are often sources of conflict and tension in the workplace. For example, we Millennials tend to be multi-taskers. We do work AND stay connected AND catch up on current events. We care about staying connected – so our cell phones are normally very visible and we text throughout the day. If you are part of the Gmail team, you know very well that many of the best g-chats occur during work hours! Many of us have Pandora stations and ear buds ready to go to help us get through the tasks that make up our workdays. Unfortunately, with the social media explosion – and our witness to its creation, expansion, and popularity – social media is sometimes banned by companies for fear of “distractions.”
Additionally, our approach to work can increase this tension as many of us work at companies for a few years before moving on to greener (and at times altogether different) pastures. Our motivations and meandering resumes are often hard for Boomers (i.e. the hiring manager/interviewer you meet) to relate to. As a fellow Gen Y’er Mandy Robertson put it in the Fiscal Times article on generational conflict: “They didn’t understand I wasn’t looking for one job for the rest of my life and that I wasn’t looking for money and status.”
So how do we minimize the conflicts that are bound to arise when say (from personal experience) – a Boomer supervisor comments on your use of headphones as a way to tune out and check out?
Boomers and Y’ers: A Meeting of the Minds
- Observe the culture and get in where you fit in
It’s important in any job that you pay attention to how everyone behaves. It’s definitely not a short-term process but observation helps you tote the line and find your niche in that new place of work. For example, at my current VISTA site the Executive Director (who is a Boomer himself) wears his ear buds when he comes in and at his desk – so I have mine ready and waiting whenever I want to jam while I work!
- Be open to communicate
According to Leadership by the New Generation our leadership style is different from the “hover over” approach many Boomers have when it comes to work. We value collaboration, care about people’s opinions, and we are action-oriented – but for all relationships, communication is the key to understanding.
- Be ready to teach
Although there are quite a few Boomers who know way more about technology than I probably ever will – in the nonprofit sector especially, social media presents a range of tools (beyond Facebook & Twitter) that can expand the reach and impact of the work we do. Learning it can be daunting, and so can teaching it – but it’s one example of how we can have a meeting of the minds.
- Be patient and keep in mind you will lead
While we can all lead from where we are, taking over the leadership of an organization is a major responsibility and chances are there are still skills you can learn from Boomers and perspectives that will offer insight for the day when you take command. Also, these conflicts will be applicable to US 10 years from now when Generation Z aka the Net Generation aka Generation Multi-tasking begins entering the workplace. In fact, read this personal account from a Gen-Z’er; it gives us a glimpse of what’s to come!
Other Articles of Interest
Huffington Post, Five New Facts about Generation Y
Accountancy Age, #AAYP Generation Y’s Great Expectations
Anne is currently serving a year in Americorps’ Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) program as a Communications/Development Associate at Urban Dove. She is also the Founder and Executive Director of her own youth development nonprofit – The World is Your Oyster launching this fall. Read all of Anne’s post on YNPN-NYC.