Millennials and Baby Boomers: Defying Odds Together in the Workplace
“Before our eyes, the world is undergoing a massive demographic transformation. Soon, the workforce will include people from as many as five generations ranging in age from teenagers to 80-somethings.”–Harvard Business Review
In 2017, we asked ourselves: “How could The Global Good Fund support, help, and enable professionals over age 50 to find sustainable and gainful employment?” This timely and poignant question came about after learning that nearly 2/3 of unemployed workers are over age 55 – a demographic that holds skills, experience and wisdom sadly getting lost in the process.
In response, we joined forces with the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation to create a specialized fellowship program focused on identifying entrepreneurs passionate about creating job opportunities for aging Americans.
“People over age 50 still possess meaningful contributions to society. They add immense value to the workplace, and help our economy to flourish. The reality was that The Global Good Fund could make a difference in job creation for this demographic using our business model. The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation took a chance on us, and we dove right in.” –Carrie Rich, CEO of The Global Good Fund
Noah Wilson-Rich and Molly Matthews, both 2018 Global Good Fund Fellows, met for the first time during our annual Summit. Noah, Co-Founder of The Best Bees Company, is a millennial CEO who started a beekeeping services company. Molly, a baby boomer CEO of Job-IQ, founded an online career literacy company. The common denominator? Both spearhead businesses that encourage job creation for the 50+ demographic.
When building his workforce, Noah harnessed the experience of older people who utilize beekeeping practices as hobbies. Molly, who supports this generation in landing gainful employment, works with tech millennials to develop her offerings.
With decades between them, Molly and Noah realized that their different perspectives serve as complementary and necessary in the workplace. Beyond today’s more commonly discussed issues of racial and socioeconomic diversity, age diversity is too often undervalued.
Here’s what they’ve discovered…
Millennials seek social responsibility: boomers seek to stay valued
Molly: Like many boomers, I want to rewire, not retire, because work brings meaning. I was inspired by the way millennials set the bar for making work significant. Early in my career, social responsibility was not on the radar screen and now, whether a company is “good” or “evil” is part of how millennials evaluate a job offer. I never thought I had the option. Millennials require employers to behave honorably, protect the environment, and participate in community which builds a better world.
Noah: Boomers in the workforce are often less concerned with advancement, and more aware of working for a present need or desire. There is tremendous value in workers who serve today’s employer demands, rather than jockeying for position tomorrow. These heritage employees provide classic, reliable service that ground a company’s foundation, upon which the enterprise can thrive, and outcompete others that don’t embrace the value of older workers.
Millennials have open hearts: baby boomers have open arms
Molly: I open my arms to the innovation of millennials. On my first day at Seed Spot, a social impact incubator, I was mystified at how everyone had downloaded information. I learned my colleagues shared documents on SLACK (cloud-based collaboration tools, the acronym: “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge.”) Aha, a solution to email chain nightmares!
Noah: I’m a scientist affiliated with MIT. My biology training gives me a Darwinian perspective on business competition, wherein this intersection of fields lies what’s called ‘evolutionary economics” informing competitive advantages over others (species or enterprises.) Diverse work forces allow for new perspectives on how to face challenges, and also supply a skilled division of labor to accomplish myriad tasks. The reason why ants and termites comprise among
the largest amount of animal biomass in the world is because of this – they have ample helpers at the nest. So, too, do diverse workforces which is why I have an open heart when employing boomers.
Millennials dress in their own style: baby boomers dress traditionally
Noah: Dressing for success in the modern world is rooted in tradition but does allow room for personal flair. My clothing has an inverse relationship with my confidence. As a millennial entrepreneur, my lack of experience is a constant tug at my poise. Those in my very innermost circle know that a suit and tie is my best armor. While I do feel comfortable adding some color to my ties, I notice what successful, older CEO’s wear, and I emulate their professional style.
Molly: It took me a while to get the new dress code which wasn’t a gray suit but always stylish. The millennials I knew wore comfortable clothing, outfits with little distinction between workday and weekend, except when we “pitched.” Then, their wardrobes, like Noah’s bow tie, dazzled.
Millennials use tech to augment life: baby boomers know tech doesn’t replace life
Noah: Typing classes were offered to millennials in elementary school and we entered the workplace with a sense of technological prowess that borders boredom. It’s unimaginable how businesses and entrepreneurs ever even functioned without email, websites, and messaging chats – both public and on the DL (“down low” for private chatting). However, tech isn’t physical reality. Millennials must understand this dichotomy and learn how to appropriately and professionally use tech within the workplace, as a means to bolster the standard 9-5 office and contribute something remarkable.
Molly: In today’s shared working space, navigating a laptop and proficiency with software like the aforementioned SLACK was necessary, as were earphones for quiet. The group were generous in teaching me what I didn’t know about tech, although I tried not to ask too often. As role models, they helped me find tech solutions on my own: keep searching Google for answers. If a 3-year-old can learn how to use an iPad, I can do this.
Millennials have a voice: boomers have ears
Molly: In my first entry level job, I made copies and rarely thought about improving our corporate climate or products. Millennials anticipate providing input and believe that their opinions and ideas matter. I am empowered hearing them speak up.
Noah: A key to presenting ideas is knowing your audience. For empowered millennials with fresh perspectives, it’s important to understand the perspective of boomers, what they need to hear, and how to keep their ears and minds open in order to make actual progress.
Millennials trust, sometimes too much: boomers might be sadder but wiser
Noah: Before starting my own company, I remember feeling like I was supposed to negotiate my salary while interviewing at my first job. I didn’t understand the factors that dictate salary aren’t all rooted in ‘game theory’ argument tactics with my new boss, but rather, are about seniority, experience, and market conditions. Those who feel entitled to demands should prove their value first, or as Beyonce said, “I talk like this because I can back it up.”
Molly: I am a fan of millennials, but from the lens of longer life experience, I’ve learned projects often cost twice as much and take twice as long as initially expected. I’ve met millennial entrepreneurs who raised money from family and friends and gave stock options without enough guarantee of return. Nothing is worse than a boomer droning on about the “good ol’ days” (I didn’t know what venture capital was!) but, if asked, I would caution millennials to focus on the viability of their enterprise before making commitments to sponsors or charity.
Moral of the story – Age is a crucial part of workplace diversity. Let’s learn to embrace the cross-generational differences. Baby boomers utilize the past to advance the future. Millennials are the future.