Dos and Don’ts For Millennials And Zs Managing Boomers


Late last year, the phrase “OK, Boomer” took off in surprising fashion online. From young politicians using it as a rallying cry of exasperation for action on climate change to internet memes, the saying was pervasive in late 2019. When I last wrote about the phrase in November 2019, it had just started trending and it seemed that it would fade into oblivion shortly thereafter as these trends usually do. I found the phrase to be a convenient lead into my research on generational divides and particularly a current musing of mine about Boomers’ propensity to mock the desires of Millennials, only to want what they want later down the road. However, unlike most other social media trends, the phrase’s popularity took longer to die out, and in hindsight it appears to have captured, to some degree, the zeitgeist of a fractured corporate and social reality.

While the “OK, Boomer” trend has unleashed a wave of back and forth opposition with Boomers on one side and Millennials and Generation Z on the other, I feel that we can also mobilize its broader significance to productive ends in the workplace where different generations interact on a daily basis. Today, one third of the American labor force is composed of Millennials, while Gen Xers and Boomers represent 33 and 25 per cent of the labor force respectively. In fact, this is the first time in history that four different generations—Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and the first members of Generation Z—occupy the workplace together.

The diverse age of the workforce means that our classical understanding of leadership is changing: not only are Gen Xers and Millennials moving into managerial roles, but corporate cultures are also showing an interest in more complex forms of leadership like reverse mentoring. Young managers can capitalize on this emerging variance in the age of workers to highlight their shared experiences as well as the respective strengths that each generation can share with the other.

Today In: Leadership
Don’t assume that you know better. I often argue that Millennials and Generation Z should be reverse-mentoring Generation X and Boomers at least 20 per cent of the time. They have a lot of wisdom to impart about new trends and realities that their older peers may not understand in the same way. But there is a right and a wrong way to go about this reverse-mentoring.

A key part of reverse-mentoring is resisting the temptation to assume that as a Millennial or member of Generation Z you know more about a given topic like technology. Imagine trying to lecture Tim Cook or Bill Gates—both Boomers—about how to turn on their computers just because they weren’t born into the age of the Internet. The situation would be awkward and in fact they would likely have a thing or two to teach Millennials about technology use.

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