How to Manage a Boomer

5 minute read

Good news, proud members of the Class of 2014, you’re out of school now and in the real world. You might even be that strange creature–a new graduate who has managed to pick up a job along with your diploma. Nice going!

Not to tug your mortarboard tassel, but there could be trouble ahead: first up, you are about to spend your days with something called a Baby Boomer. Perhaps more than one. Don’t be scared. Although Boomers are terrified of you.

You can’t let their fear get to you. It’s good to remember what one Boomer wrote about you and your friends in Inc. magazine last spring, “Most Millennials grew up in a warm, supportive environment in which they were constantly told they were the best or brightest–regardless of the facts.” Let me just say, you are doing wonderfully.

Now on to those spooked Boomers. Even after years of downsizing, there may be a few Boomers left in your place of work. Boomers have been through a lot. Treat them with care. They are an unhappy bunch: The Pew Research Center once called Boomers the Gloomiest Generation (and this was before the Great Recession had them reaching for the Lexapro).

Since I’m a Millennial, some more about me. I’ve worked apple cheek by drooping jowl with Boomers for a half decade—that’s equal to a quarter century in Millennial time–so my advice comes with a little thing Boomers call “experience.”

Tip number one: do not call a Boomer, a Boomer—at least not to his face. Boomers do not like this. Tell a Boomer he’s being a Boomer, and a particularly brave one might say something like, “I’m not a Boomer. I’m an early member of Generation X.” This is a very Boomer thing to say. Some pencil pushers may tell you that no person born later than 1964 qualifies as a Boomer. They are wrong: Boomerdom is as much a state of mind as it a demographic cohort.

Tip number two: Find common ground. There happens to be plenty. A Gallup survey from January reported that 17 percent of Millennials were actively disengaged at work. Twenty percent of Boomers said they shared the same flaky feeling. Talk about that while you’re busy not working together.

This time last year, this magazine called Millennials the “Me Me Me Generation.” The Boomers brought us the “culture of narcissism” and the “me decade.” Never before have two generations thought so highly and so much about themselves. Sometimes navel-gazing is improved by a partner. Find yourself a Boomer. Compare selfies.

Tip number three: don’t talk money. Boomer bankers have a lot of explaining to do. Boomer CEOs have disappeared these things called pensions (it’s complicated, but basically they once paid you even after you stopped working). Now fellow Millennial-fearing Boomers, with their rotten 401Ks, are stuck working next to you when they had planned on spending mornings in lawn chairs counting the cars that drive by the house. But, here again, good news and still more common ground: According to a recent Forbes report, “Millennials aren’t motivated as much by money.” Because Boomers have lost so much and Millennials can hope for so little the zipped lips on the money thing should be easy for everyone.

Tip number four: Be patient. You’re going to be working together for a long time. Gallup again: Forty-nine percent of Boomers say that they don’t plan on retiring until after they are 66 years old or older. Ever scarier, one in ten Boomers say they will never retire. Look around your office: count to ten Boomers. One of these guys is leaving the office feet first.

Until that happens, try to find what makes each Boomer special. Every Boomer is like a snowflake, different in his own way. As one director of marketing told Fox Business readers about Boomers, “We are not all the same. Stereotyping is always dangerous, and with Boomers, it simply can’t be done.”

Tip number five: Keep things in perspective. One Boomer, claiming to be a member of Generation X like so many Boomers do, told the Washington Post, “Dealing with Millennials for me is like drinking water from a fire hose — it takes my breath away.” Remind a Boomer that there could be so many more of you. That fire hose has a giant Boomer-made knot holding back its true pressure.

You could show the light-headed Boomer the copy of the Economic Policy Institute’s Briefing Paper No. 377, published in May, that you were just reading. You could tell the Boomer it says, “In today’s labor market, there are nearly 1 million ‘missing’ young workers—potential workers who are neither employed nor actively seeking work…because job opportunities remain so scarce.”

Watch the Boomer walk away slowly. Give him the rest of the day to think about the prospect of a Million Millennial March, coming up the elevator, down the hall, past the cubicles and making a parade right for the Boomer’s office door.

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