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Growing Pains: What Happens When Millennials Become Leaders of Older Generations

How can Millennials learn to assert their authority over Boomers, while still keeping a clear vision and respecting tried-and-true methods?

As Millennials progress in their careers – whether climbing the corporate ladder or starting businesses and hiring employees of their own – they are increasingly finding themselves in positions where they have more seniority than people older than them.


Millennials as Managers

Millennials are a very unique generation, and not just in how they choose to spend their money or save their money for the future. They bring a unique set of attitudes and ideas to the workplace – and the smartphones attached to their palms may not be as detrimental as you may think.

There is no doubt that the differences between Millennials and Gen X and Baby Boomers will cause some tension in the workplace. The kinds of Millennials who rise to leadership positions are often energetic and full of ideas for innovation and change. But those brilliant ideas might be met with some resistance from their older employees.

“There are many factors that can prevent a more mature employee from taking direction from a younger one, beginning with a bruised ego,” explains Todd Berger, 31-year-old president and CEO of Chicago-based Redwood Logistics, in an interview with

Berger offers these five tips for Millennials to successfully manage their older cohort in the workplace:

  1. Be open to their ideas and opinions: While Millennial leaders might come to the table with a lot of new and exciting ideas, it’s important for them to listen to their employees. Millennial leaders who shoot down every suggestion or comment will quickly lose the respect of middle-aged and older employees, especially if they’ve been on the job longer than the Millennial has.
  1. Don’t change too much too soon: It can be tempting to start implementing new policies as soon as you rise to a new position, but Millennial managers should resist an immediate overhaul. “Start by listening, watching, observing and asking questions,” Berger said. “If a certain practice the team did worked really well, integrate it into the new process and explain why you think it will help.” And even though Boomers are pretty adept at using smartphones, consider using more traditional methods of communication before requiring them to be completely online.
  1. Make a personal connection: Finding common ground is the first step to forging a positive working relationship. Let them in on your hobbies and interests outside of work. This humanizes you and shows that you’re taking an interest in their personal lives as well.
  1. Commit to their success: Baby Boomers may naturally feel hostile towards Millennial managers because they perceive those managers as the first step to being replaced in the workplace entirely. In order to squash this fear, you should actively invest in your staff’s development. Offer them the opportunity to take courses, or at least meet with them regularly to discuss projects and give feedback. Make sure it’s clear that their future in the company is secure and bright.
  1. Ask for their advice: Asking for advice from employees who have been in the industry for decades will show that you respect their experience. “It will show you trust their insights,” Berger explained. “And by offering them your trust, you’ll gain their trust in return.”

Even though there are some unavoidable growing pains when younger generations rise to management and leadership positions, it’s crucial to not lose sight of the endless benefits that can be unlocked when people of all ages come together in the workplace. Each group has much to learn from the other, and when you strike the right balance in learning from each other, everyone wins.

As time goes on, it will be especially interesting to see how older Millennial bosses rise to the challenge of managing younger Millennials, as well as the even younger iGen generation. One thing is for certain: communication – both digital and face-to-face – is going to be a critical make-or-break factor.

Are you a Millennial who manages older generations? Share your experiences, frustrations and tips at @WhatTheGen and @JasonDorsey.


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