ENTREPRENEURS 6/12/2014 @ 9:15AM 4,033 views
Managing Millennials And Boomers In The Workplace
Comment Now Follow Comments
GUEST POST WRITTEN BY
Cofounder and CEO of Lifesize Communications.
For the past two years, before returning to my role as CEO here at Lifesize, I founded and was the CEO of an early-stage SaaS company. In my time there, two of the company’s talented young engineers – both “Millennials,” in their 20s – left in favor of working for completely virtual companies. They wanted to be able to work from wherever they happened to be, and said they didn’t necessarily feel the need for the “camaraderie” of an office location.
That’s a common attitude among Millennials (and their immediate Generation X predecessors). It’s a real shift in thinking, though, for somewhat older employees – those in their early 50s like me, at the tail end of the Boomer era.
Lifesize has its roots in enterprise communication hardware, so we have a longer-tenured workforce than many web software companies. But we also are starting to successfully blend in Millennials with our more seasoned employees. (Being in Austin, we’re surrounded by a vast pool of talented Millennials.) These young workers are dynamic, high energy, full of ideas and live at the intersection of cloud, mobile, social – a great blend of traits that are essential for any company.
In the currently booming tech economy, Millenials with strong software development or on-line Marketing skills are in very high demand. And they want to work at progressive web/cloud companies. Since our re-branding and our new cloud offerings were launched, we have noticed a significant improvement in the number and quality of resumes coming in. The point is they were just not interested in working for an 11 year old hardware only company.
Managing a blended group of older and younger employees can seem like a challenge. Each group has a view of work and corporate culture that can be at odds with the other. Effectively managing both groups is mostly a matter of bridging the gap between technical enthusiasm and business experience. However, it’s not always smooth sailing.
One collision of cultures we recently experienced at Lifesize involved our office space. At my SasS startup, we had an open floor work environment. Everyone sat at workstations with low dividers grouped together to facilitate collaboration. It worked really well with lots of energy and conversation. Small huddle rooms and lounge areas served as group meeting spaces. We also had a few two-person “phone rooms” for private conversations. When I returned to Lifesize, I wanted to reconfigure our rows of private offices and high walled cubes into the same style open floor plan. At my initial rollout of the concept, I received huge amounts of push back from our predominately Boomer employee population in Austin who had no intention of giving up their private offices. The Millennials at my start-up, used to the new sharing economy, expected and liked to work in the open style. But you would have thought I asked my Lifesize Boomers to start wearing “skinny jeans” along with moving out of their offices. We’ve started the office re-design project but are now more sensitive to listening to the concerns of our diverse employee population.
At home I’m the father of three Millennial kids and married to a Generation X wife, so I have some experience attempting to manage the generation gaps there as well. My 25-year-old son actually eschews nice hotels for Airbnb spare bedroom accommodations, and I still can’t get my early 20’s daughters to put down their phones at dinner (I actually think they are texting and Instagram’ing each other just to annoy me). At work, I’m far from thinking through the company’s next social theme or which social platform is trending for the day. But what I do have is 30 years of recognizing patterns – how people work together, no matter what the technological flavor of the moment may be. That’s why I (and other Boomers in leadership positions) can observe what’s happening, understand what’s important, and get people moving together in the right direction – guiding the process with both people and technology.
When managing employees in a company, it’s important to play to both the pattern recognition skills and experience of senior leaders. Boomers need to feel their experience in the workforce counts for something in the organization. These employees are, in part, motivated by mentoring team members, who may just be starting off on their career paths.
Mentoring can also reduce the insecurity of older employees, who often feel they can never be as steeped in technical knowledge as co-workers in their 20s and 30s. While they may not be as technically adept or as deeply creative with technology as their younger counterparts, they’ve seen countless waves of trends in business. Combined with the new way of doing things that technology provides, this experience and pattern recognition creates business insights that a younger worker may value.
In the end, as with many things, it’s all about balance. Older employees simply have to stop feeling threatened by the technological skill that Millennials bring to the table and they have to value that skill. And younger workers have to get past the arrogance of technological self-sufficiency; they must become connected to the company, learn how to have in-person conversations, and draw on the experience of more seasoned employees.
Building a culture of mentorship can help both groups do better in an organization. Part of mentoring means letting go, and giving younger employees larger, more responsible roles in a project. Millennials crave acknowledgement that their skills are essential to the success of a project. Recognition gives them the drive to contribute with passion and stop being so focused on themselves. Knowing that more experienced colleagues have their back will show them the real value of the corporate environment.
Strike a balance between what your company expects and can give to employees (beyond traditional benefits), and what employees can contribute to the company and its culture. Nurture both technical enthusiasm and business savvy; don’t let one run roughshod over the other.
Boomers: Remember your institutional knowledge, market experience and ability to spot a trend are fundamental to business success – and don’t downgrade the importance of technology that drives ever greater opportunities. Millennials: Understand that all the technology in the world is not a substitute for real-world experience and interpersonal communication skills. That’s a learning that only comes with time.