Millennials vs. Boomers: Generational Differences in the Workplace

As 2015 closes, baby boomers may notice something passing them by — millennials. A Pew Research analysis of U.S. Census Bureau projections (December 2014) finds that 2015 is the year the number of millennials (born 1981-1997, ages 18-34) will officially pass the baby boomer generation (born 1946-64 ages 51-69) as the biggest age cohort. Millennials number 75.3 million, bypassing boomers at 74.9 million.

This demographic shift is already being felt in the workplace — millennials form 25 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to consultancy PwC. The trick for employers is to build a workplace culture that will attract and retain millennials — and as a side benefit, perhaps improve the work environment for all. Here’s how to play off the generational differences of millennials:

  • Millennials are tech savvy, digital natives. The image of young workers head-down, focused on their smartphones is not false. As an employer, use your digital millennials to coach older workers who are less comfortable with new technologies on some of millennials’ productivity-enhancing habits.
  • Millennials may prioritize meaningful work over higher salaries. Don’t spend any salary savings too fast though, because wages and health insurance are important, especially for millennials with big student debts. Instead, promote work-life balance, which may include flexible work schedules or telecommuting-practices that workers of any age will appreciate.
  • Millennials crave coaching. “They are expecting more from their employers, including a commitment to career advancement,” says Lindsey Pollack, a self-styled workplace translator of millennials. “They also value teamwork and relationship building, both in and outside the office.” Giving millennials room to grow is the key.
  • Millennials prefer face time — despite their normal heads-down posture on their smartphones. In a recent Microsoft survey of millennials, 65 percent said they prefer to communicate face-to-face with their manager. That face-to-face preference applies to teamwork, too — 51 percent said they preferred in-person meetings for collaborating on projects with colleagues. Those desires are easier to meet in small business than large corporations but the advice is clear: Don’t manage only by email; manage by walking around.
  • Millennials are restless. Fifty-eight percent of millennials expect to stay in their jobs fewer than three years, not the seven years for boomers, according to a Millennial Majority Workforce Study survey in 2014. To retain millennials, emphasize training in new skills and career advancement.
  • Millennials want regular (some say continuous) career advice. Mentoring relationships between millennials and older workers benefit both parties.
  • Millennials see themselves as no-collar workers. In: Jeans and open offices. Out: Ties and offices with doors.

Hiring Millennials: Uncovering Hidden Talents

William Vanderbloemen hires lots of millennials in his recruiting firm — 75 percent of his employees are under 30. In Inc. magazine, he outlined 5 Secret Questions for Making a Great Millennial Hire that tweak the usual job interview queries to uncover nascent leadership skills:

  • Tell me about an initiative you led or helped lead.
  • Tell me about a cause you are involved in and what makes you want to contribute more.
  • Describe a time when you were criticized. How did you respond?
  • When have you been asked to work too much? How did you respond?
  • To whom do you go for life and work advice?
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