Older workers, Younger BossesManagers are increasingly grappling with generational differences in the work force. Older workers are now reporting to Millennials, resulting in a strong difference in communication styles and work habits. In fact, the Millennial work force is approaching 80 million strong, the most superior generation in terms of sheer numbers, which means if organizations want to be successful, they must find a way for older and younger employees to work cohesively.

People believe what is written about Millennials, creating preconceived notions even before the young employee steps into the building. Jayne Mattson, Senior Vice President of Keystone Associates, in a conversation with Careerbright discusses the generational differences, tips for younger bosses, company culture, communication styles, and workplace expectations.


Q. As generational differences increase in the current workplace, what are the challenges these generations & organizations face?

Ø  Believing everything that is written about each other’s generation isn’t necessarily the truth and applies to everyone, so use your experience to understand your similarities and differences.

Ø  Managing the expectations of millennials from the start with promotion, salary increases, understanding the communication protocol of the company.

Ø  Since Millennials dominate the population of workers, their way of working is not always compatible with existing employees and frustration, lack of productivity and motivation can set in with each other.

Ø  Millennials are leaving companies because of their work values and career needs are not being met. The challenge becomes finding a consistent way to interview new candidates asking questions that will identify if the culture is a good fit.


Q. Are more Millennials being promoted to leadership positions?

Millennials are being promoted into leadership roles bypassing older workers who might have more experience and skills. However, Millennials are in the early stages of their careers and bring new ideas, increase use of technology and a willingness to learn, which helps the organization shape their leadership style to fit the culture and needs of the organization.  If they manage their peer group, they have a clear understanding of how they work, what they want and how preferred method of communicating too. However, it does present challenges as well because of the lack of experience handling the many different management issues such as conflict resolution, employee development and overall coaching.


Q. Is it a trend in the tech sector or common in other industries?

Since Millennials outnumber all generations in the workforce, there are challenges with all industries. In the tech industry, you are seeing less Baby Boomers in middle management roles because in some cases their technology skills are not as up to date as some of their younger colleagues. Millennials grew up using technology as a way to communicate, so picking up something new is a natural behavior. Companies still need to hire the most qualified people to help them solve their problems and be creative an innovative in approaches to saving money, time and retargets. More experienced people will be able to help them better since they have more experience.


Q. With younger bosses and older workers in the workplace, what are your tips to keep egos and friction at check?

Ø  Adjust your mindset about generations; hold an open mind that there is much to learn from each other. The younger boss will want to be treated like a manager who knows what he or she are doing and the older worker wants to be treated with respect for their years of experience.

Ø  Eliminate any pre-conceived notions that you have read about the younger workers and learn from your own experience with them.

Ø  Have regular check-ins determining what works best for each other and in what mode of communicating is preferred. Is it email, texting, face to face and how frequent.

Ø  Older workers need to stay away from language such as “that is the way we do it”, that won’t work, we’ve tried it before and stay away from “when I was your age.” The conditions of life were very different than they are today, so what worked years ago, does not work today.

Ø  The older worker will need to make more adjustments than the younger boss because that person is the boss. Stroking your bosses ego when appropriate with meaning it will help your relationship become non-threatening. Keeping up with technology will also enhance your credibility.


Q. How can the company/HR encourage better communication between Millennials, gen x and boomers for a productive working relationship?

Ø  Set up cross generational mentoring programs (or call it a different name that will identify more of the goal) or projects where all generations work together at least 1 project a year.

Ø  HR needs to have regular check ins with managers and hearing what is working and what are the challenges. They need to be ahead of problems being proactive versus reactive.

Ø  Allow people some flexibility in the way they work. Using technology might not always be the best way to work or having conference calls versus face to face meetings. Provide a good balance depending on the demographics of your work population.

Ø  Identify a way to communicate successes within the organization where the communication works well with good business results.

About the guest post author:

Jayne Mattson is the senior Vice President of Keystone Partners is a leading talent management and career transition services consulting firm based in Boston, Massachusetts.  Keystone Partners’ divisions include Keystone Associates, comprehensive career management services through executive level; Essex Partners, premier career consulting exclusively for senior executives; and Camden Consulting Group, integrated talent management experts.  Keystone is also a founding partner of Career Partners International.