Boomers and Gen X Find Common Ground With Millennials
By Mark Swartz
Are young workers resentful of older ones? Do employees over 40 fear and loathe Millennials?
Much has been written of generations clashing at work. Boomers clinging to privilege and rank. Gen X pushing out 60 year olds while blocking Millennials from rising. Youth fighting tooth and nail for a leg up.
To diffuse possible resentments, it helps to find common ground with other age groups. An understanding of shared values (or experiences) can smooth tensions. It can even lead to mutual gain.
What Generation X And Millennials Have In Common
The age gap between these two cohorts is significant, not vast. Gen Xers range from their mid-30s to early 50s. Millennials are in their 20s and early 30s. As a result there’s much these generations both relate to.
Comfort With Technology
- Who entered the workforce just as computers hit it big? Gen X! They started with “dumb terminals” and sluggish desktop PC’s. Faxes evolved into email; the Internet sprouted, and mobile phones shrank from the size and weight of a brick to today’s pocket marvels.
- Millennials have been wired from the get go. Their comfort level with virtual transactions is remarkable.
Difficulty Getting First Good Job
- Millennials are struggling to get established. Competition is intense. 20-somethings may have to take on unpaid internships plus big student loans. Underemployment is a real issue.
- Gen X’ers also graduated into tough times. A recession left many to take first jobs substantially beneath their level of education.
Blocked From Advancing Quickly
- Ask anyone in their 20s what’s holding back their career progress. “All those people over 40 clinging white-knuckled to their jobs,” is a likely reply. Boomers and Gen Xers make up nearly two thirds of the workforce.
- Gen Xers also must deal with older workers hanging on longer. The financial crisis of 2007 – 2010 scaled back retirement plans for many 60+ workers.
Importance of Worklife Balance
- Gen Xers wanted jobs that left time for other priorities. Unfortunately workplace demands, family obligations and economic realities made it tougher to achieve balance.
- Millennials are using technology to free themselves from workplace shackles. Remote work and flexible scheduling can mean greater freedom. Except employer demands continue to conflict with personal time.
What Boomers And Millennials Have In Common
Four long decades separate a 60 year old from someone turning 20. The world’s values have shifted in that time. And technologies that futurists could only dream of back then have altered almost every single job.
So what could Boomers and Millennials possibly have in common?
A Shared Sense Of Self-Management
- Boomers (and older Gen Xers) lived through a drastic change in employer-employee relations. It used to be that a job for life was common. Loyalty to an employer was repaid by security and upward mobility. That’s all shifted since the mid 1980’s. Managing your own career path is now essential.
- Millennials saw their parents work hard yet get tossed by employers. These days younger workers face less stability than before. Hence 20-somethings are practicing self-direction, grudgingly or otherwise.
Gender and Orientation Are Much Less Of An Issue
- Boomers were pioneers on gender and orientation equality. Before them, discrimination against females and LGBQTs was mostly unchecked. Current laws that protect everyone’s human rights at work were advocated for by people who are now in their 60’s and 70’s.
- Building on those initial successes, Millennials are bringing an embrace of diversity to new levels. Barriers are falling in ways Boomers applaud.
The Importance of Social Responsibility and Environment
- In 1961, the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson first raised mass awareness that earth’s resources are limited. From then on, many Boomers have been champions of ecology.
- Millennials prize Corporate Social Responsibility. They want their employers to aid in endeavors from social justice to carbon reduction to workplace democracy.
From Common Values To Common Causes
Age can get in the way of cooperation, it’s true. Inter-generational resentments are easier to nurture than unified values.
For inspiration, consider a recent shining example. At the Paris Climate Change Talks in 2015, a Gen X world leader (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, born 1971)) worked together with dozens of head-of-state Boomers being mentored by eager Millennials.
What they shared was an agreed necessity of saving our planet. The accord they reached is a lynchpin in achieving this lofty goal. Isn’t that proof that generations can cooperate for the benefit of all?