7 Ways to Bridge the Millennial Divide

by Lois Zachary

Think about people you know who are approximately your age. TheBoomers and Millenials workplace relationship skills likelihood is that you and your age cohort exhibit similar behavior patterns, workplace expectations, communication styles and expressions, and also share common historical reference points and memories.

If you are a Baby Boomer or a GenXer, chances are you’ve noticed that many, if not most, of your coworkers have different modes of expression, working, and even dissimilar values. That is because right now a tremendous shift is underway in the workplace.  Baby Boomers, for many decades the largest generation, are rapidly decreasing in numbers and record numbers of Millennials (76-80 million of them) are flooding the workplace.

More has been written about the Millennials (born between 1980 and 1995) than any previous generation. Millennials have been given many labels: Echo Boomers, Gen Y, Net Generation, First Digitals, iPod Generation, GenerationNext. They will be, by far, the largest workforce generation.  Here are some interesting stats about Millennials:

  • According to T&D Magazine (2011), Millennials will make up about 50 per cent of the 2014 workforce.
  • They have the highest unemployment rate of any U.S. demographic group. Forty percent either lack a job or are underemployed and many have opted for jobs in the public sector.
  • More than a third of employed Millennials have started their own business to supplement their income (Iconoculture 2011). Many others have focused on business or social entrepreneurship.
  • Millennials are more racially diverse than any prior generation (U.S. Census Bureau 2011). 18.5% are Hispanic; 14.2% are Black; 4.3% are Asian; 3.2% are of mixed race; and 59.8% are White.

We live in the context of our own generation and we bring that context with us into our relationships. Baby Boomers, who defined the very nature and norms of today’s workplace, find themselves struggling to understand why the values, preferences and ways of doing business that they embrace don’t seem to be valued or relevant to most Millennials. To lead Millennials,  managers need to become keenly aware of generational differences. While awareness offers a frame of reference, it is important to fully understand the uniqueness of each Millennial and not “over-generationalize.”

What can you do to improve how you relate to, engage and develop Millennials as leaders?

  1. Tell them the truth; it establishes trust and sets the tone for the relationship.
  2. Be respectful and acknowledge the experience that they bring to the table; they want to be treated as equals.
  3. Ask for and listen to their thinking; they want to be heard and taken seriously.
  4. Offer challenging “think outside the box” stretch assignments and a variety of learning opportunities.
  5. Make sure they have the resources and the information that they need to achieve their goals.
  6. Use technology. If you don’t know how, ask them to show you. They are masters at it.
  7. Provide regular feedback, especially praise and affirmation.

Lois Zachary is the President of Leadership Development Services, LLC. and an international expert on mentoring and leadership development. She has written several books on mentoring. The newest one is The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships. Other books include Creating a Mentoring Culture: The Organization’s Guide, and The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You.


About Lois Zachary

Since The Mentor's Guide was first published in 2000, it has become the primary resource for organizations interested in promoting mentoring for leadership and learning and for mentors seeking to deepen their mentoring practices. Zachary is president of Leadership Development Services, LLC, a Phoenix-based consulting firm that specializes in leadership and mentoring, and director of its Center for Mentoring Excellence™.
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