I’ll be the first to admit, Millennials have gotten a pretty bad rap. As a therapist and coach specializing in working with Millennials, my job provides me the opportunity to listen to the unique issues and stresses that arise for this generation.
One complaint that I hear most often is how difficult it can be to communicate with your older boss. We know a large part of this miscommunication and frustration comes from the generation gap between millennials and their Baby Boomer bosses. I want to start by saying that I don’t think it’s all “the millennials fault” that they’re struggling to get along with the older generations, nor do I think it’s all “the boomers fault.”
The best place to start is to begin by learning more about why Baby Boomers are the way they are.
Who are the Baby Boomers? They were primarily born between 1946-1964 and like Millennials, they represent a very large part of our population. Their parents were the “Builders” Generation in which hard work and loyalty was valued. Boomers, in the eyes of Builders, were rebellious.
Boomers value professional identity, health and wellness and material wealth. Boomers see themselves as forever young and find their identity at work. We can all thank Boomers for adding month per year to the average worker’s workweek. Boomers use technology but they use it to do more work, not less.
While Baby Boomers live to work, Millennials work to live. Boomers believe in authority and hierarchy because that’s what they learned from their parents and how they “came up” in the working world.
Most millennials want a career that has meaning and creates a sense of fun. They want to be challenged and don’t necessarily care about titles or “how many dues” someone has paid.
At this point in your career, you’re probably not going to be able to change the landscape of your current company and you’re probably not going to stay there forever. My guess is your ultimate goal is to find work that’s meaningful and will give you the freedom you want to live your life on your terms. Take a moment to step back and think about what you want to get from this work experience.
What Can You Do?
While it may seem like you’re hitting dead-ends with your boss, or that they just don’t understand you- there are several things you can do to ease communication and ultimately find more freedom and more joy at work. When you walk into work tomorrow, I want you to keep the following things in mind:
1) There is mentorship to be had, it just may not look like what you expected.
We all start new positions with great expectations about how much we’re going to be learning and growing every day. At some point we realize that there is a lot to do each day and those inspiring pep talks you envisioned getting from your boss, are actually updates and status reports.
The mentorship aspect of your job may not look like what you thought it would but there are lessons to be learned. Your job is grab those pieces of wisdom when you can. If you’re stuck in your head that your boss has barely heard a word you said in weeks, understand that growth and learning comes in fits and waves.
When you find yourself getting too in your head about not feeling mentored enough, tell yourself “stop” and start listening and observing what’s happening around you.
2) They want to hear your ideas but on their terms.
You may feel very comfortable approaching your boss, his/her boss, the CEO, whomever, to tell them what you think. You were taught to speak your mind, why stop now? You don’t understand why this person is getting offended by your wanting to contribute to the company.
One of the biggest lessons you’ll learn is that “timing and tone” is everything.
Your boss may want to know what you think, they just don’t want to hear it when they’re in the middle of something else.
While you feel comfortable approaching your boss, they’ve been working in an environment where you need to show a certain level of respect for those above you. There is a hierarchy that needs to be respected. Boomers were raised to respect their bosses and they are taken aback because of your lack of formality.
This may seem very “old school” but the reality is you want your idea to be heard – right? If you master timing and tone, you’ll have a supportive boss, a mentor for life, and an advocate for your professional success. If you learn how to communicate effectively, your boss will hear your ideas.
3) Yes these Boomers are slow when it comes to technology, but you’ll be in their shoes one day so ask yourself how would you like to be treated.
Millennials are a unique generation because you’re “digital natives.” You grew up with the Internet, e-mail, texting, Facebook, social media, and the list goes on. It can feel frustrating when you know there is an easier way to get things done but your boss is unwilling to change.
There are many reasons why your boss is unwilling to change. Sometimes it’s the fear of change and not wanting to learn a new skill. Maybe they’ve been approached with the idea of using technology to solve a problem in the past and it hasn’t worked.
That’s why they are in charge. They have the experience to know that sometimes you need to slow down a bit and not rush change. If you broach the subject more than once and they are still resistant, drop it.
Managing relationships at work is always tricky and no one gets it right all the time. You want to think about your career as a long path that you’re going to be driving, walking, hover-crafting through for a long time. Your goal now is to gain valuable skills you can take with you, meet colleagues that may be a valuable contact in the future and, when you leave, you want to be remembered as smart, innovative and invaluable.
You can start to create that person for your Boomer boss tomorrow.
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I’m a Therapist and Coach in the Bay Area. I work with twenty-somethings to help build careers and relationships they love. I help clients through the unique struggles twenty-somethings face as this navigate this exciting but challenging time of their lives. To learn more about me or to schedule a [...]