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The Baby Boomer to Millennial: The Myth of the Generation Gap

Much has been written recently about multi-generational workplaces. In the past, a manager was seldom younger than the people he or she managed; now that situation is commonplace. In the past, few companies rehired a retired employee as a contract or contingent worker or held on to that employee by offering flexible hours or telecommuting; now that situation is commonplace. In the past, older employees had the best grasp of technology related to the job; now younger employees are taking the lead.

However, many myths have also grown up about the generational gap. For example, baby boomers are not that far behind millennials in embracing new technologies. They are just as wedded to their Smart phones and just as likely to be on social media (according to one survey of 1000 baby boomers, 91% use social media). They may favor different social media sites or shake their heads over the refusal of millennials to actually talk on a phone, but they use and understand the latest technology.

Flexible working hours are important to both groups, baby boomers and millennials. In a recent report, lack of flexibility was among the top reasons that millennials quit their jobs and a major factor in older employees staying on the job.

According to a 2014 Wall Street Journal article, “Today, more than one in three US workers are freelancers—a figure expected to grow to 40 percent by 2020.” In 1995, the Monthly Labor Review stated that contingent workers (freelancers and part-time workers) were more likely to be African-American, female, and enrolled in school. Now, according to a 2016 Huffington Post article, contingent workers are “providing your company with specialized workers who meet very specific needs in a way that drives bottom line growth”—and they come from every age, socio-economic, gender, and racial group.

What does all this mean for employers? First, employers should realize that a workforce of all boomers or all millennials will not give them some magical guarantee of either loyalty or technology know-how. All ages are liable to change jobs if they object to the work/life balance and all ages are technologically astute. Second, employers should never consider an employee to be permanently gone from the workforce. Just as employees are told not to burn bridges when they leave a company, now employers must be careful not to alienate employees who are leaving. Today’s full-time worker might be tomorrow’s consultant.

If you find yourself unable to bridge the generational gap, real or imagined, please contact HR Compliance 101. We can help.

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