The Generation Gap: Tackling Differences in Professionalism Among Boomers and Millennials

The passing of the torch took place in 2015 when Millennials displaced Boomers and Gen-Xers as the biggest population in the workforce. The sheer number of Millennials will only increase over the next decade with the U.S. Bureau of Labor predicting this age group, which generally refers to the generation of people born between the early 1980s and 1990s, will make up nearly 75% of the workforce by 2030.

With such large numbers on the horizon, Boomers and Millennials need to find common ground in order to continue driving growth and business success within companies.

One well-researched obstacle between these two generations is the perception of professionalism at work. Their ideas of what’s acceptable in the workplace are vastly different, and this dichotomy can spark divisions in the workforce.

Professionalism Among Boomers

For Boomers, being at work mean it’s time to work. As the generation that started the 50-hour workweek, many Boomers believe putting in long hours to get more done is the formula for career advancement.

This dedication to the company often comes at the cost of their personal lives. Because they feel taking vacation time can interfere with chances for advancement, many Boomers experience a work/life imbalance. Boomers are known for keeping their phones at bay and personal affairs on hold when they’re in the office.

In addition, Boomers grew up with formal dress codes where “business casual” is more business than casual. They believe in being buttoned up and wearing professional clothes to the office. A clean image is important to them, especially as many currently enjoy senior roles that influence many staffers.

Professionalism Among Millennials

Having grown up with social media and advanced technology, Millennials are more comfortable conducting brief bursts of personal activity on the clock, like checking Facebook or text messages.

Contrasting Boomers, Millennials place less of an emphasis on appearance. In some industries, jeans or even sweatpants are acceptable office attire, and many are accepting of visible tattoos given 4 out of every 10 Millennials have at least one. Apparently, the other 6 admit they’re still taboo in certain professions.

All of this said, it should come as no surprise that Millennials believe in a healthy work/life balance where they have weekends and evenings free. This is not to say Millennials don’t work hard, a stereotype they have had the misfortune of acquiring. At work, Millennials are driven to work hard for causes they are passionate about.

Working Together

There are inherent differences between these two generations, and your best action is to turn these dissimilarities into advantages. Here’s how:

1. Create a reverse mentoring program. While Boomers have decades of experience and technical knowledge to share, Millennials have an inherent understanding of technology and social media. By teaching different skills in the office, both generations can grow together.

2. Create diverse teams. By assembling teams of different ages, you’ll meld different perspectives and ideas, creating a recipe for success.

3. Form a multi-generation internal committee tasked with solving generational differences. Again, bringing this diversity together to communicate is what fosters success.

4. Get them to rub elbows. A good example: Hold lunch-and-learn sessions on topics neither group is familiar with. Learning together can foster bonds that bridge the generational gap.

5. Move workspaces, if possible. Proximity often leads to conversations, and conversation breeds friendship and understanding. By pulling staffers out of their comfort zone, they’ll socialize with people different from themselves.