7 Ways Boomers and Millennials Differ at Work
Life + Money

7 Ways Boomers and Millennials Differ at Work


Despite the stubbornly high unemployment rate among millennials, millions in this cohort are working office jobs side-by-side with boomers who haven’t yet retired.

Given the age gap, the opportunity for conflict between generations is ripe, and it’s about more than just who forgot to clear leftovers from the office fridge. Millennials will make up 34 percent of the work force next year, but they’ll comprise 46 percent of workers by 2020, according to a report by the University of North Carolina.

Boomers and millennials have different views of work and life, which can clash in an office environment. Almost 25 percent of HR professionals reported some generational conflict in the workplace, according to a poll by the Society for Human Resource Management, in 2011, the most recent time the association examined the issue.

Gripes among younger employees who work with people their parents’ ages are widespread: Forty-seven percent of younger workers complained that older managers were resistant to change and had a tendency to micromanage. Boomers, meanwhile, reported issues with the typical millennial’s work mentality, with about 33 percent of older respondents pointing to the younger generation’s informality, need for supervision, and lack of respect for authority.

There are always exceptions to every stereotype, of course, but here are seven areas in which boomers and millennials just don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to work.

‘Face Time’
More than 8 in 10 millennials surveyed by MTV think they should be allowed to make their own hours at work – versus 69 percent of boomers. “A lot of boomers think that if millennials aren’t at their desk, they aren’t working,” says Meredith Wells-Lepley, director of research and consulting at the Institute for Workplace Innovation at the University of Kentucky, though in many cases millennials are working remotely or putting in less traditional hours. Wells-Lepley says it’s more a matter of being predisposed to flexibility than being opposed to face-to-face communication.


Feedback and Direction
The children of helicopter parents (and yes, they’re still very close with them) are used to constant feedback and are OK with a hands-on supervisor, while boomers prefer more autonomy. “A lot of managers are just doing one annual performance review, which works for boomers,” says Courtney Templin, co-author of Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management. “Millennials want more than that.” Some 60 percent of millennials say they need specific directions to do their best work, double the percentage of boomers, according to the MTV survey.

Though the concept of teamwork surfaced slowly in the business world, according to Robert Wendover, managing director of the Center for Generational Studies, millennials – raised on the idea that two heads are better than one – are changing the way people work together. Lacking the self-confidence that comes with years of experience, millennials tend to seek several opinions before making a business decision. That need for support, Templin says, is less common among boomers, who prefer to lead by example when solving issues rather than join up with coworkers.


Expectations for promotion
More than 61 percent of millennials think workers should be promoted every two to three years if they’re doing a good job, while just 43 percent of workers ages 55 or older agreed with that statement, in a 2012 study by CareerBuilder. The younger generation grew up in a culture where everyone got a trophy just for playing in the soccer tournament, so they may be less accustomed to not receiving an award for participation.

Workplace loyalty
Perhaps because millennials saw their parents get laid off by long-time employers during the Great Recession, 20-somethings exhibit less loyalty to their employer than do their older counterparts. Millennials only stick with the same job for an average of two years, while boomers remain with an employer for an average of seven years, according to a report released last year by Payscale. A younger worker’s propensity to job hop isn’t necessarily indicative of poor work values – many just want to achieve a lot in a shorter period of time, says Jim Finkelstein, author of Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace.

Compared to boomers, who are considered digital immigrants, Finkelstein says millennials are digital natives. Having grown up during the evolution of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the like, they possess a natural techno-savvy that can lead to resentment of coworkers who don’t have the same skills. When it comes to tech, 76 percent of millennials think their boss could learn a lot from them, compared to just 50 percent of boomers, according to MTV.

Millennials are also hungrier for new technology. “Millennials grew up in a world where a three-month-old cell phone is outdated,” says Templin.


Work-life Balance
Hearing stories about their parents living through the Great Depression, boomers experienced a childhood “immersed in messages about hard work, sacrifice, long hours, moving up the ranks, and maintaining a thrifty lifestyle,” says Wendover – and boomers adopted those practices. In turn, millennials grew up watching parents dedicate their entire lives to their career, often trading family time for a fatter paycheck.

Less willing to forfeit such pleasures (after witnessing mom and dad burn out), today’s 20-somethings seek a job that offers more balance. “They want to enjoy their work, but they also want to have extra-curriculars, interests, friends, and activities outside of work that they also enjoy,” Templin says, and they’re willing to make trades to achieve that balance.

Correction: This article originally identified Robert Wendover as Roger Wendover.