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Boomers and Millennials: Can We Work Together?

Debbie Dalton, AARP California
Debbie Dalton, AARP California

Guest post by Debbie Dalton, AARP California Associate State Director of Outreach

Over the past few years, my fellow baby boomers and I have been discussing the increasing number of younger employees in the workforce and our experiences working both with them and for them. Our discussions have varied from enjoying the energy and new thoughts of these colleagues to feeling out of step and sometimes frustrated and unheard. Work is changing as generations with differing work styles come together.

In Career Pivot, Marc Miller writes that “[t]he workplace of the future will be defined in next 10-15 years by Gen Y,” also known as millennials, a generation born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Today’s workplace was molded by baby boomers and our parents – and while the technology is very different, the management styles and systems have remained the same for several decades.

Bruce Mayhew characterizes the baby boomer work style as “more individualistic and less idealistic." Baby boomers, he says, believe in “working your way up the ladder…paying your dues” and feel that “money and perks are the reward for hard work, long hours and commitment.” By contrast, Diane Thielfoldt says that millennial managers are more focused on team work, training, taking risks, and receiving recognition.  They’re willing to challenge authority and they are open to change – meaning that they “will not hesitate to adapt practices to new models in order to improve.”

Millennial workers are expected to make up 36% of the workforce this year. It’s projected that they'll make up 75% by 2025. In Forbes, Dan Schawbel lists ten ways millennials will create the future of work, including making remote working the norm and changing the meaning of “face-time.” Does this mean baby boomers and millennials can’t get along? Not at all. We need to learn about and understand each other, just like any other colleagues. This article by Kelly Gurnett at Career Attraction is both insightful and funny in describing some of the myths about our generations, as well as offering ideas for how each generation can respect the other’s work style and differences.

As for myself, I am embracing the evolving work environment, one in which I feel my experience and skills are valued. I am fortunate to have colleagues from every generation, including millennials, who are guiding me and embracing me as a team player as well as a mentor. The truth is, we must collaborate and learn to work together to succeed. We boomers are working longer than previous generations and the number of millennials in the workplace increases every year. There are skills that each generation can share to strengthen the work environment, and together we will find our commonalities and accept our differences as we learn to work together.

Debbie has been with AARP since 2005; she served as the lead for last November's Work@50+ event. She has extensive experience in the public and nonprofit sectors, working with older adults, managing staff and volunteers, developing programs, and speaking to groups large and small. Debbie holds an M.A. in Psychology from California State University, Fullerton and a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Follow her on Twitter: @DebbieDalton_.


Today’s post is the most recent in our Work@50+ Wednesday bi-weekly series.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date on the latest in the series, as well as our events throughout the state. On Twitter, check out #workat50plus for the latest research and articles on the topic.

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