3 Reasons Baby Boomers and Millennials Are More Alike Than Anyone Wants to Admit

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Although the most common discussions around Millennials and Baby Boomers in the workplace often involve phrases such as "bridging the gap" or “coping with differences,” these two generations may not be as dissimilar as we’ve been led to believe. Here’s a look at three reasons the Millennial worker and Boomer worker may be more similar than we give them credit for.

1. They both want to be heard and respected.

We hear that Gen Y has been praised a little too much, brought up with an "everyone gets a trophy" mindset, but it’s human nature to want recognition for a job well done, says Paul McDonald, senior executive director at staffing firm Robert Half.

“Millennials grew up in a time that was more inclusionary — everyone could make the team. With Boomers, if you didn’t make the team, you had to deal with that,” McDonald says. “But that doesn’t change the fact that they both want recognition for their work. Boomers have made a lot of contributions throughout their career and they don’t want to be forgotten. It’s no different.”

When getting recognition, a Boomer might be happy with a small mention in a company memo or brief applause in a meeting, while a Millennial might prefer a shout-out on Twitter or praise on LinkedIn. In either case, the desire for recognition is the same.

“Everyone likes to be heard,” McDonald says. “It all goes back to wanting respect and wanting to feel valued. The different generations have different communication styles, but their desires are the same.”

Boomers and Millennials both ask for respect, just in different ways, says Colleen Albright, founder and CEO of Michigan-based job fit finder culturecliQ.

“A Boomer would be more inclined to let their work speak for themselves and might bring up their achievements subtly in conversation with a manager. Meanwhile, a Millennial would be a little more demonstrative and would have no problem sending their boss a detailed list of their accomplishments. Millennials have found their voice at a younger age, and they exercise that,” she says.

Boomers and Millennials crave feedback, because it’s one way they know they’re being heard and valued, explains Todd Berger, president and chief executive of Redwood Logistics, an integrated logistics firm in Chicago.

“Regardless of generations, all employees crave feedback. They want to know what they could be doing better, and what their strengths and weaknesses are,” he says.

Only the method and frequency of feedback tends to differ between the generations. Millennials may prefer monthly email check-ins, while Boomers might be happy with a quarterly face-to-face meeting.

2.They both want to make a difference.

Boomers and Millennials both have a sensitivity to social injustice and causes, says Greg Zoch, partner and managing director at executive search firm Kaye/Bassman International.

“They approach it differently, which is a technology thing,” he says. “Millennials can reach more people on social media than we ever could before, but they’re not afraid to march. Boomers marched in Mississippi for Civil Rights; Millennials rallied for the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s the values that are similar.”

While some say that the younger generation is “all about the party,” Zoch says he knows more Millennials who deliver Meals on Wheels than those who are disengaged and dispassionate about social causes.

“Millennials truly care about their community and the world around them,” Albright says. “I think in the generations between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials, that social consciousness disappeared a little bit, but if you look at these two generations you see they both came out of times preceded by recession and depression. Coming out of World War II, the Boomers wanted to be more involved in making the world a better place, and after seeing their parents suffer through the recession, Milliennials had a strong desire to make the world a better place.”

In the workplace, both generations want to be part of projects that are going to make a difference, McDonald says.

“They want to feel as though what they are working on is going to help their company and their industry succeed. They want to be involved with things that are important to the organizational mission,” he says.

3. They both see themselves as “rebels” and hate their stereotypes.

“A lot of people complain that Millennials are rebellious, bohemian, rule breakers — but if you talk to Boomers who went through the 1960s, well, guess what? They were called those same things,” Zoch says.

Both generations crave recognition as trail blazers — Millennials want it now, and Boomers wanted it when they were in their 20s and 30s, Albright says.

“They both want to be recognized for being unique individuals, not following in the footsteps of someone else. They both challenged norms and ushered in a new way of thinking and behaving, and neither generation wants to be treated in a one-size-fits-all manner,” she says. “The audacity of people to stereotype them infuriates them because they want to be seen as unique.”

Today, Boomers have to face down a new set of stereotypes in the workplace: They’re aging, they aren’t tech savvy, they’re resistant to change and they’re “on the way out.” Meanwhile, Millennials are accused of not listening, demanding frequent promotions and lacking basic “real world” communication skills.

“They hate their stereotypes, and they are trying to prove the media opinion wrong,” McDonald says. “Those preconceived notions are still out there, but I am seeing a shift in the last two years as Millennials have taken on a larger share of the workforce. They are adapting and dispelling those stereotypes.”

Boomers may also be setting the record straight, as more of them turn to second careers and continue to rise to leadership positions.

“I know a lot of tech savvy boomers,” Zoch says.

— Written by Kathryn Tuggle for MainStreet

Follow Kathryn on Twitter @KathrynTuggle

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