When millennials become the bosses: Helping generations work together

Today’s workplace is a historic mash-up, as it’s the first time we’ve had five generations in the workplace at the same time.

Of course, it’s true that the oldest cohort, the “traditionalists,” are aging out, but most generation watchers include them since their influence can still be felt in many workplace structures that continue today. And while Baby Boomers are also nearing retirement age, more workers are participating in the workforce, at least part time, for longer. And as they cling on to their former roles, Gen Z is fast approaching.

But the group that most HR professionals are attuned to are the millennials, and with good reason. Today, millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, according to the Pew Research Center. And that means that even though there are older generations still in the average office, more and more millennials are going to be “the boss,” even for these workers who are older than them.

Here are some tips that can help ease the path for generations working together.

Explain style differences.

The reality is that many of the elements that we typically think of as “millennial” in nature, such as wanting feedback and coaching, are actually prized by all generations. However, if older generations are used to an ‘”annual review,” they might worry that they are being micromanaged if they get more frequent one-on-ones. Millennial managers might consider talking to colleagues about how and when they prefer to receive feedback to make sure that the team realizes it’s for their benefit, and not to nag.

Focus on the benefits of a diverse team.

Often we think of “diversity” in terms of gender and culture, but age is a factor as well. Research shows that diverse teams produce better outcomes, and that includes having members of various ages on teams. In fact, the Randstad Workmonitor report found that 90 percent believed it was a benefit to have co-workers of different ages working together. By helping your millennial managers and their teams see the why behind diverse teams, they may be more liable to embrace them.

Beware of stereotypes.

Millennials are entitled. Baby Boomers are old fuddy duddies. It’s very easy to group every member of a generation together, but we all know that it’s rarely the case that all individuals follow a similar mold. Encourage teams to talk about what drives them and share past experiences, and avoid jumping to conclusions and assumptions about what another team member from another generation might be like. For every Gen Xer who wants a face-to-face meeting, there’s another one who’d just assume take care of all conversations on Slack. Millennial managers need to be open to finding out these individual preferences instead of assuming.

Share knowledge for a better overall product.

Older workers might have institutional knowledge that can help younger managers make better decisions and fast track projects. While no one wants to resort to a “This is how it’s always been done” mentality, it can be helpful to know what’s been tried before and learn from past lessons about why something might not have been effective. Similarly, older workers shouldn’t feel shy about asking for help with areas where they might not be as up-to-date, like lead management systems.

All generations have plenty to offer one another, so HR personnel should encourage a collaborative, rather than competitive, environment, no matter who is leading the team. Whether you institute a formal “reverse mentoring” program or just encourage colleagues to reach out to one another, teams that recognize each member can offer value are going to succeed.

The key to integrating mutigenerational work teams successfully — especially when one that is led by a younger manager — is realizing that different generations have as many similarities as they do differences. Working together can make the entire organization stronger.