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Can’t Boomers and Millennials Just Get Along?

November 16, 2015
Boomers and Millennials

Boomers on Millennials: They are impatient, have unrealistic expectations and think they are smarter than everyone else.

Millennials on Boomers: They are traditional, resistant to change and don’t take Millennials seriously.

Those were the common themes I heard when I took an informal survey among Baby Boomers and Millennials in preparation for a panel discussion that Van Eperen hosted for ADWKDC 2015, “What Baby Boomers and Gen Xers Wish Millennials Knew.”

I had to chuckle as I read the survey responses because they weren’t much different from the types of things my generation said.  As a Boomer who entered the workforce in 1986, I viewed the older generation (in my case, The Greatest Generation) as traditional, resistant to change and unwilling to take my generation seriously. When I graduated college I thought I knew it all ― and I wanted it all and I wanted it fast — title, salary, responsibility. After all, I was smart and I deserved it, right?!

Fast-forward nearly 30 years later, not much has changed, with two exceptions: technology and we now have labels for the generations. The former, in my opinion, has been one of the greatest equalizers in the workplace, particularly in the PR profession. Unlike when I graduated, today’s entry-level employees can come into an organization and make an instant contribution because technology is part of the fabric of their being.

“Nobody needs our panel to describe how 60, 40 and 20 year olds are different,“ noted ADWKDC panelist Dr. Brian Griepentrog, senior vice president of research for the Fors Marsh Group.  “The challenge is disentangling life stages from period effects, such as social movements, wars, and economic downturns. For example, do more millennials live at home longer because they are lazy, or has unemployment for young people been at an all-time high while the rate of undergraduate and graduate enrollment has skyrocketed?”

Millennial panelist Kimberly Brown, associate director of public relations for the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, agreed, adding the massive college debt with which her generation is burdened also contributes to Millennials living at home longer.

So why does all of this matter? According to the latest data from the Pew Research Center, Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce. Furthermore, Washington, D.C., has been dubbed a ‘Mecca for Millennials’ with 20-somethings moving here in droves.

“It’s been great for the economy, but it also presents challenges to traditionally stodgy DC offices, which have had to evolve with the times,” noted Van Eperen CEO and workshop moderator Laura Van Eperen (@LauraVanEperen). “Each generation brings value, and it’s important to embrace that in today’s workplace.”

The bottom line: Everyone agreed that communicating effectively across the generations comes down to understanding your audience and engaging in two-way communication so that we can all get along.

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