A Labor Day message for boomers and seniors: Flip flops are coming to the workplace whether we like it or not! So predicts Haydn Shaw, author of Sticking Points, a book about the generational clash in the workplace. We might say, flip flops … no way with my ugly feet! But the reality is that millennials, all 92 million of them vs. 78 million boomers, are rapidly infiltrating the workplace. Not only that, they are increasingly becoming our bosses. A June 2014 CareerBuilder’s survey of full-time workers 55 and older found that 77 percent say they work for a younger boss, 40 percent for a boss at least 10 years younger than them.
Just as we can rattle on about self-involved and entitled millennials, they complain about technophobic, arrogant older workers. Stereotypes aside, with four generations (seniors, boomers, gen x and millennials) in the workplace cultures will clash. Shaw, 51, lists 12 sticking points of friction among generations: communication, decision-making, dress code, feedback, fun at work, knowledge transfer, loyalty, meetings, policies, respect, training and work ethic. In an effort to work better with millennial bosses, I asked him to pinpoint three keys areas where older workers can learn to be more flexible.
- Communication. Email and face-to-face chats are considered time consuming, with millennials wondering why we don’t just instant message. Ask a question, get an answer and avoid a back-and-forth email chain. And those face-to-face meetings to get to know each other? “The millennial just assumes if you wanted to know anything about him you’ll already have checked him out on Facebook or Googled him,” Shaw says.
- Work ethic. While we think putting in 8 a.m to 6 p.m. is impressive, to a millennial it’s not working smart in the 24/7 global market. “Just because we always worked those hours doesn’t mean we can’t change,” Shaw says. Take a lesson from millennials: leave at 5 and finish up work online later in the evening. You probably have to answer that 10 p.m. text from your millennial boss anyway.
- Fun. While it’s not necessary to do Jell-O shots with colleagues after work, it does help to understand that millennials consider “the wall between work and play porous,” Shaw says. So if a millennial shares an angry cat video during a meeting, it’s just a way of lightening the mood.
And those flip flops? Shaw uses it as a metaphor for change that companies – and older workers – need to embrace to survive. Still, you never know, and in the spirit of compromise get your sandals polished and ready to go.
Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.
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