Do you have inter-generational drama?  Especially between boomers and millennials?

Ageism is common.  This cuts both ways.  Consider the stereotypical off-hand comments, “millennials are entitled,” or “old people are clueless.”  In the company of people of a similar age, corroboration is forthcoming.  Too often, ageism is a socially accepted scapegoat for why people choose not to work well together.

We reject those who judge our character without knowing us.

However the root cause of ageism, other than the righteous ego hit of “we’re better than them,” can often be found in our ability to relate.   Our age reflects where we are in our life cycle whether it’s renting our first apartment, dating, getting married, buying a home, having children, divorce, or taking care of parents and grandkids.  For individuals at different stages, more effort is required to relate.

I had coffee with a bright 24-year-old who likes his job and enjoys where he works.  However sometimes he struggles to relate since he’s the youngest on the team by a decade.  He’s living with his parents and trying to figure out the balance of health, work, adventure and partying.  He said he went to lunch with some of his work colleagues and tried not to roll his eyes when they started comparing backyard landscaping.

“I don’t even have a home, let alone a backyard I would want to spend time landscaping,” he said.

I suggested next time he meets with his co-workers to try asking about their lives:

  • Where were they in the world when they were 24?
  • What’s one piece of advice they’d give to their 24-year-old selves?
  • What’s the most unusual item on their bucket list?
  • How do they balance work, health and play?

Another key source of contention between millennials and boomers is a perceived lack of respect. Boomers want to be valued for their hard-earned expertise while millennials are less likely to respect someone simply due to position, title or knowledge.  There’s a sense these are overrated. You can find knowledge on Google or learn how on YouTube.

Millennials do value (as we all do) those who are interested, invested and involved.  They seek personal and professional growth and appreciate those who share their experiences of learning.  They value true connection.

Millennials also want to know “why” not because they’re questioning someone’s intelligence or authority, but because they want to learn.  They want to understand the reasoning backing a decision.

Add to the mix new technology. Often boomers’ confidence and wisdom is undermined by trying to “find the damn document that used to be housed over here.” Nobody likes feeling stupid.  It’s incredibly demoralizing to go from being the “go-to” expert of the old system to the novice of the new one. Younger individuals are often unaware of how their fluidity with navigating technology and speed at absorbing information leaves others behind.

So you have boomers feeling disrespected, calling millennials entitled, and millennials rolling their eyes at their slow counterparts.  To break down this disunity, first and foremost, stand on common ground.  Focus on what they have in common rather than where they diverge.

P.S. Get your copy of Culture Works to discover a whole bunch of other great workplace culture secrets!