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8 Suggestions for Encouraging Boomers and Millennials to Work Together

Pretty much everybody knows the “Boomers in Government” story: expectation of a mass wave of retirement, a downturn in the economy, and now governments are still trying to determine when they should be prepared for the exit of their most tenured workers. With Millennials entering government while the Boomers are still sticking around, it can at times be a clash of cultures. As a manager, what can you do to encourage the two groups to work together in a way that helps everyone? Here are eight tips to get you started.

  1. Open the lines of communication: Schedule a mandatory weekly or bi-weekly meeting for your team to get together. Bill it as an informal brainstorming/grievance airing/catch up session, and use the time to discuss whatever the biggest issues are for your team at the present moment. Utilizing the informal meeting structure harnesses something Boomers like (in-person discussions instead of everything happening via email) and something Millennials like (free thinking brainstorming sessions).
  2. Set up a Boomer-run mentoring program: Create a small group of your Boomers who are interested in mentoring Millennials, and identify those Millennials who are open to the idea of being mentored. Give the Boomers free range to run the program, set up mentoring partnerships, create events, and direct the content of what is shared with Millennials (of course, you should feel free to offer suggestions). Conversely, build a team of both Boomers and Millennials to establish and run the mentoring program. This alternative gives Boomers the opportunity to seek input from Millennials on what they’d like to get out of a mentoring program and gear the program toward their interests. Either way, it’s important to remember that there is no sense in forcing either Boomers or Millennials into a mentoring program to which they won’t give 100%. Instead, put a sign-up sheet somewhere visible, send around an email, discuss the possibility of such a program at your next informal meeting, or speak to those Boomers or Millennials who you believe might be interested.
  3. Set up a reverse mentoring program: Have an informal, as-needed mentoring program led by Millennials. Identify those Millennials within your team who are interested in mentoring Boomers, determine specific subject areas that interest these Millennials, and develop a “bench”. When you have an upcoming project that requires a certain level of expertise in an area in which your Millennials might be more experienced (for example, social media) make your Millennial mentors available to Boomers who want to gain some additional knowledge in the identified area.
  4. Exercise empathy for both groups: There’s inherent conflict when people from different generations work together, but it’s important that you understand both sides of the story. Help Millennials to understand why a Boomer prefers to work a certain way by offering explanation and methods for reducing tension, instead of simply asking your Millennials to deal with it, and vice versa—let Boomers know you understand, but assist them in seeing (and working with) the other side.
  5. Create schedule partnerships: If it’s within your ability to offer flexible schedules, pair up a Boomer with a Millennial who prefer working opposite schedules and place them on the same projects. If your Boomer likes to come in earlier, and your Millennial prefers to work later, not only will they both be assured that a given assignment is covered from early morning until evening, but they will be able to learn from each other and work as a team.
  6. Set up volunteer opportunities: Survey your team to determine what kinds of volunteer projects interest them. As you identify areas in which both your Boomers and Millennials express interest, schedule non-mandatory volunteer opportunities for these groups to work together. It allows them to give back to the community while working toward a common goal outside the pressure of the office. This can open up communication and help each side see the strengths of the other.
  7. Evenly apply expectations: Boomers and Millennials sometimes like to approach work differently, so it’s important that you don’t apply expectations to everyone that truly only benefit one group; that’s a great way to create friction. For example, when extra hours are needed for a project, a Boomer might prefer to finish that work after hours at the office, while a Millennial might want to do the work on the train home or in the evening. As possible, allow flexibility in how work is completed.
  8. Create community: You don’t need to force your workers to get together outside of business hours, you can instead help to create community during lunch. Schedule weekly or bi-weekly brown bag sessions, and ask for interested Boomers or Millennials on your team to sign up to be the featured speaker. Allow them to speak about anything—a recent vacation, a topic of importance to them, interesting facts about the office, a new app to improve productivity, etc. If you find that either Boomers or Millennials are turned off by the advertised topics, consider just listing the speaker for any given brown bag lunch, and encourage all of your workers to attend. This is another instance in which it’s important, however, not to force your workers into attending.

How do you encourage Boomers and Millennials to work together? What are the best strategies you’ve found for building empathy and improving communication between the two groups? Or, is this not a problem in your office at all? Share with us in the comments!

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