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Communicating at work: What is going on? Boomers & Millennials?

What is going on?
What is going on?

Excerpt: The Baby Boom (Boomers) and Millennial (Millennials) generations have a gap in values and beliefs about work practice in Corporate America, e.g., how to work and how to work together; a gap that causes conflict in the workplace.

A 21st century mindset that fosters communication, i.e., awareness, understanding and buy-in, between Boomers and Millennials could help in closing the gap. The five concepts described below reflect such a mindset; one that, if shared, could lead to greater cooperation between the generations, and subsequently, lessen their conflict.


Given the nature of the 21st century with its complexity – and the enduring challenges inherent in day-to-day life no matter the age – it’s a wonder the two prominent generations, Boomers and Millennials, in the USA today with their disparate value sets aren’t giving each other the silent treatment at home. Yet, they’re not.

The majority of Boomers have heeded the call to care for their aging parents, mainly, the GI Generation. They have also responded to the needs of their children, the Millennials, during the latest recession in which millions of young adults were shut out of the job market through no fault of their own. Most Millennials like and respect their parents, the Boomers, and they continue to rely on them for support and guidance.

Yet, in the workplace, ‘Boomer—Millennial’ communication is often fraught with unawareness, misunderstanding and lack of support. Here are five (5) 21st century communication concepts that that will help Boomers and Millennials communicate at work.

1. Complexity

The generation gap between the Boomers and Millennials is a ‘kinder, gentler’ one compared to the Boomer generation gap of the 1960s. The Boomers trounced the generations before them with their competitive edge (perhaps necessary given the social striation of the time). Now, however, complexity calls for multiple perspectives. Allying yourself with others who can see what you may not be able to see is essential to achieving results.

2. And/Both

The two generations seem to be two-sides of the same coin: The Boomers: inward and culturally-oriented; The Millennials: outward and civically-oriented. Both perspectives have a solid place in the re-imagination of the strongest and most innovative economy in the world; namely, America’s.

3. Perspective-Taking

Sheryl Sandberg may be right, lean in, Boomers and Millennials – towards each other. Getting work done through and with others requires cooperation; albeit, if you don’t perceive the work world the same way cooperation may be unlikely. Enter perspective-taking.

4. Web-Like

The structure of the American workplace has changed from hierarchical to web-like. (Note: This change in structure is the preeminent change in how we live and work in the 21st century.) The change brings about a form of information flow that is multi-dimensional and discovery-oriented. Boomers are 'web-like' as they focus on personal aging, yet, their workplace behavior often remains hierarchical. Millennials want a seat at the table, yet, lack professionalism. Embracing the web means embracing the whole.

5. Time-Binding

For Boomers, legacy matters, but they may not be thinking about legacy at the societal level. For Millennials, influence matters, but they may not be thinking about influence beyond their particular generation. Time-binding, the natural human capability of transferring knowledge from one generation to another is happening as we speak and, most importantly, it’s no longer linear. It‘s complex. If you accept that learning is life-long then Boomers and Millennials can learn from each other (perhaps about what legacy to leave or what influence to have).

The five strategies, as pertinent as they are, are not all encompassing to communicating at work in the 21st century. Continually ask, what works and what doesn’t.

Organizational communication maven by day. Food, wine and beer buff by night. World traveler. Entrepreneurial spirit. Contact Eroca Gabriel, a former Fortune 100 ‘people and culture’ consultant, at


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