The Parent Trap: What Happens When Boomers Manage Millennials - dummies

The Parent Trap: What Happens When Boomers Manage Millennials

By Hannah L. Ubl, Lisa X. Walden, Debra Arbit

When Boomers manage Millennials, they can easily fall into the grooves of a parent/child relationship. This isn’t meant in a condescending way, but it’s a good idea to recognize Boomers’ natural ability to identify with the Millennials they manage because many of them have raised Millennials of their own.

For Boomers, Millennials are not “agent unknown.” They’ve been around them, and to some degree, they get how Millennials work. That said, this parent/child perception can have two very different outcomes. One is the Boomer manager becoming a Millennial’s number-one champion. The other is the Boomer turning up his nose and digging in his heels with a “you’re not my kid” sentiment that turns into a whole lot of stereotyping and typecasting.

Here are the two types of Boomer bosses:

  • The champion Boomer boss: When some Boomer managers see fresh-faced Millennials, they see nothing but potential. They are eager to teach them, coach them, and mentor them to ultimately see them “grow up” into successful counterparts and colleagues. This lights up many Boomer managers and is one of their incentives to go to work every day.

Grooming the future of the workforce is a huge motivational factor, and they see their Millennial’s success as a reflection of their own skill as a mentor and coach. It’s a personal win for themselves. They know when to step in and when to step back, when to reward and when to reprimand. It doesn’t mean the relationship is easy, but it can be the powerful bond that elicits some of the best work out of high-performing Millennials.

  • The typecasting Boomer boss: Unfortunately, the “typecasters” in numbers seem to be almost equal to “the champions.” These are the managers who find themselves saying those annoying parental phrases like “when I was your age” or “kids these days …” Oftentimes, despite the fact that many of these typecasters are raising Millennials at home whom they adore, that love just doesn’t translate to their Millennial at work.

All too often, there are stories of Boomer managers who can’t believe that their employee’s parents are getting involved at work, yet they themselves are incredibly involved in their own child’s career progression. As much as they connect with their own Millennial kids and their very Millennial tendencies, as soon as those traits and tendencies show up in the workplace in the form of their employees, those positives turn into giant negatives. Oftentimes these typecasters and naysayers are blind to the irony of the situation.

See the following table for a look at how to be a champion and how not to be a typecaster.

Tips on How to Be a Boomer Champion Ways to Avoid Being a Boomer Typecaster
Encourage a two-way-street managerial relationship. Don’t engage in a power struggle.
Set rules and expectations, and then give them freedom to make mistakes. Realize that every generation has pros and cons.
Don’t be afraid to engage informally as well as formally. Remember that some challenges are generational, while others are because an employee is new to the workforce.

Capitalizing on the unique Boomer/Millennial alliance in managing

Boomers and Millennials have a natural alliance, and the managers who can capitalize on that will be at a real advantage when it comes to getting the most out of their Millennial employees. So what makes these two generations a natural fit?

Natural optimists

Both Boomers and Millennials tend to be more optimistic than their Xer counterparts. Boomer managers can count on Millennials to believe anything is possible and rally around a new project or idea. They both like to celebrate big wins and lead with the desire to make a difference. In meetings, during brainstorm sessions, when assessing pie-in-the-sky ideas, these two generations connect over the possibilities. This degree of idealism that they share influences how Boomer managers affect Millennial employees’ development and inspiration.

Easy, two-way mentorship

Whether it was their parents, coaches, pastors, or teachers, most Millennials grew up with a network of Boomers surrounding them. From Millennials teaching their Boomer friends how to use the latest technology to Boomers showing Millennials how to write a formal resume, communicating with each other is not new territory. A good number of Boomers have had some experience interacting with Millennials, and the two-way mentorship model could feel like a natural extension of what they already do.

Find your strength

Tap into your natural Boomer manager strengths by

  • Feeding into Millennial positivity and encouraging their ambitions
  • Opening the door for them to share their voices and ideas, while still imparting your own wisdom
  • Gently coaching them on the ins and outs of workplace etiquette
  • Sharing personal stories of where work has been and where it’s going

Avoiding common mistakes when managing Millennials

As anyone who has ever been a parent knows, it is all too easy to make a million little missteps until suddenly you look at your kids and think, “Who raised these monsters?” While no one is expected to be a perfect boss or parent, these sections detail the top behaviors to avoid when it comes to Boomers managing Millennials.

Condescension

No matter how big the age gap is between you and your employee, it never justifies being condescending. Constantly touting how long you’ve been at your job or sighing at how woefully inexperienced your Millennials are is one of the fastest ways to lose their respect. Sure, you may have been working at your company longer than the Millennial has been alive, but smart managers realize that dismissing young professionals as “kids these days” gets you nowhere.

“It was so much harder for us”

This sentiment is where sayings like “I had to walk to school uphill both ways, barefoot in the snow, when I was growing up” come from. People love to think that they had it harder than the perceived cushy lifestyle of the Millennial generation. Boomers can be especially guilty of this. And sure, while you may not have had programs like Excel to calculate things for you, Millennials today are faced with new challenges that Boomers never had to worry about, like the pressure to bring your laptop home with you to work at all hours. Steer clear of this generational “one-upping” at all costs.

“[My Boomer boss] is more ‘get it done’ and just gets it done, whereas I am more likely to [research first, and] Google it. Neither is wrong, but there is value in having both sides of the coin. Have only one and you’re missing out. Hopefully subsequent generations have different skills, and that will be valuable.” —Kara F., Millennial and manager

Prevent pitfalls

  • Avoid potential Boomer manager pitfalls by
  • Recognizing the different conditions Millennials grew up in
  • Focusing on the positive attributes Millennials bring to the workforce (instead of harping on the negatives)
  • Finding proactive ways to work on weaknesses, instead of dismissing them as generational failings
  • Finding the value and satisfaction in imparting your hard-earned knowledge to build talented next-generation leaders