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Millennials Managing Baby Boomers

Roles are reversing as more baby boomers retire, and as millennials enter ever-higher positions in the workforce. Boomers once held most managerial positions, but their younger counterparts are starting to take over, and many older employees are answering to workers decades younger than themselves.

While people often focus on the differences and conflicts between these generations, they can actually make great teams. Instead of a source of friction, these reversed roles can provide opportunities for each generation’s strengths to shine.

Effective management will require an understanding of both boomers’ and millennials’ strengths, goals and priorities. If you’re hiring young up-and-comers for managerial positions or seasoned employees for subordinate roles, keep the following considerations in mind.

Views on Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is one of the top priorities for most millennials, while boomers tend to view overtime — even unpaid overtime — as an acceptable part of day-to-day work. This difference can cause friction when boomers are in the lead, but it may actually help each group strike a healthy work-life balance when a millennial is in charge.

To avoid conflict, however, millennial managers should spend a significant portion of time at the office with their subordinates, even when some of their work can be done from home. The demands of leadership will have to temper their desire for flexibility, while boomer subordinates — many of whom will have already “paid their dues” in their industries — will be able to cut back on overtime.

Communication Styles

Adults of all ages carry smartphones and use PCs, but millennials still tend to be more tech-savvy and favor electronic communication. Boomers, on the other hand, often prefer to talk in person or on the phone, and they appreciate formality even in emails and other day-to-day correspondence.

Which style is better? Should your teams hold traditional meetings at all? Is it all right for managers to text requests and feedback to their employees? The answers to these questions will vary not just from one company to the next, but from team to team within the same organization. Instead of worrying about hard-and-fast rules, make sure that everyone on any given team is operating under a common set of ground rules. Different generations may have different preferences, but there will be far less resentment and far more collaboration if expectations are clear.

Leveraging Experience

Different people make great managers for different reasons — and not always because they’re the most knowledgeable, most skilled or most experienced candidates. Top leadership qualities include an open mind, organizational skills, a mind for logistics and a willingness to go the extra mile, and these skills aren’t limited to any one generation.

Even when they’re the best fit for leadership positions, millennial managers will realize the most success by leveraging their older workers’ experience. They’ve spent decades learning their industries and developing their skills, and they can offer their teams a great deal of wisdom and insight. The best managers will be able to incorporate insight, feedback and even constructive criticism, while efficiently directing their teams toward a common goal.

Different Preferences, Common Goals

Many of the differences between boomers and millennials have more to do with style than substance, and ultimately, managers and subordinates alike are working toward a common goal. Email vs. in-person communication, rigid vs. flexible schedules, formal vs. informal dress — these are simply different ways of accomplishing the same tasks.

What helps tie intergenerational teams together is a consistent company culture with clearly communicated values, such as social responsibility, transparency and a commitment to excellence. If your brand, your hiring process and your executives demonstrate those values, you’ll attract and retain top-quality candidates of all ages who can work together effectively in many roles.

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