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Bringing Boomers and Millennials Together at Work

The oldest members of the Millennial generation (also called Generation Y or Echo Boomers), now in their 20s, are flexing their muscles and making their mark in the workplace. Meanwhile, the oldest members of the Baby Boomer generation, now in their early 60s, are entering a career twilight fraught with uncertainty.

Within a decade, the Millennials will be the dominant demographic force in the U.S. workplace, and most of the Boomers will be past what we used to call retirement age. But retiring at 65 and living off your nest egg is no longer a given. Many Boomers need — and want — to continue working throughout their 60s and beyond.

So employers today have two very differently motivated groups to manage. They also have to keep business costs (including payroll) down and profits up.

Some short-sighted organizations conclude that Boomers and their higher salaries are an easy place to cut costs. They get rid of the older employees, or refuse to hire older workers to fill new openings, or both. Payroll costs may go down initially, but the business is left with an inexperienced group of young workers who won't hesitate to leave if they're not getting what they want, which means higher turnover costs.

Employers who have their finger on the pulse of workplace trends should be able to view a clear picture of what's happening today and use it to plan for tomorrow. By recognizing what motivates each group, and drawing on their respective strengths, they can create a situation that benefits both groups of workers, and the bottom line.

Let's look at what — generally — motivates Millennials and Boomers:

Millennial Motivations

  • Want to accomplish something meaningful at work;
  • Have no qualms about job hopping in order to keep expanding their skills;
  • Are accustomed to the dynamic of teamwork;
  • Like the recognition that comes with a job well done; and
  • Don't want the constant stress their parents experienced from long hours at work, placing a noticeable strain on leisure and family time.

Boomer Motivations

  • Take pride of what they've accomplished, building careers and raising families;
  • Are a restless bunch; they want more — whether in their existing careers, or in some other endeavor that has always intrigued them;
  • Yearn to pass on their accumulated wisdom to new generations;
  • Want to scale back their work lives, but need to continue earning before they can financially enjoy a comfortable retirement; and
  • Want to retire satisfied that they accomplished what they set out to do.

A Proposal for Today with Tomorrow in Mind

Both the Boomers and the Millennials want to do something meaningful and valuable. Doesn't it seem obvious that there's an overlap here? Some companies are recognizing and acting on it, to everyone's benefit.

For example, The Wall Street Journal reported the case of Blue Cross Blue Shield Association in Chicago, which offers something innovative for later-stage Boomers. The company awards extra days off to those 62 and older, as well as part-time work at full-time pay to selected workers who agree to defer retirement and mentor their successors.

So, in that spirit, what if other employers hire Boomers into hybrid roles that give them meaningful work of their own, but also assign them as mentors to Millennials? These assignments could be either part- or full-time. They would help build the workforce of the future and — by extension — potentially lengthen a younger worker's tenure with a company.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Millennials treat Boomers with more respect than contempt, believing they can learn from them. Such programs can feed off that for everyone's benefit.

The Upside

If such an arrangement is done right, with organized training and career development programs, younger workers could grow in their careers and stay with a company for a longer time.

For the Boomers, especially those who like the idea of being respected as teachers and fonts of wisdom, the advantage is apparent. At the same time, they can work at something they're experienced with, contributing both to the company and to the mentored among them. And they can build their retirement nest eggs.

There's much emphasis today in business on talent management and development. By bridging this generation gap, businesses can mold the leaders of tomorrow before the leaders of today exit the stage.

Do you think employers would balk at shelling out extra money in salary and benefits to aging workers to mentor others? Or will they see this as a worthy long-term investment? Please share your thoughts.

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