Could Boomers and Generation Y be an Ideal Match?

This week, despite working really hard to turn my to-do’s into to-done’s, the list kept getting longer.  As a result, it was difficult to muster up much energy for an interview with a fresh-out-of-school young woman who wanted to interview me for an article that would showcase our organization’s community leadership work.

Much to my surprise, it was an uplifting experience. She had obviously spent time on our website and understood our mandate, prepared excellent questions, and listened well. But it was her enthusiastic grasp of the value and importance of our work that was most exciting. Even when I expressed my frustration that society placed a high priority on education relating to business without having an equivalent program or degree dealing with the overall quality of life in our communities, she immediately understood what I was saying. When I shared my vision of wanting to see a community leadership program in every college and university in the country, she totally got it and replied, “I would take a course like that in a heartbeat, and so would a lot of my friends!” She was also impressed with the design of our website and the interaction being reflected there.

The entire exchange got me thinking that, as strange as it seems, this new Generation Y (those born between 1979 and 1994) and my own cohort of Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964), might have more in common than we think. Also known as the Millennials or Echo Boomers, Generation Y, like the Baby Boomers, are a powerful generation simply as a result of their numbers. Both Boomers and Generation Y are twice the size of their respective preceding generation so their sheer numbers demand we pay attention.

I was also struck during my conversation with the young writer by how much we share in terms of wanting to make the world a better place and our responsibility to do so. This also means we place a high importance on our individual search for meaning, as well as having meaningful work.

Like a lot of Boomers, Generation Y also appears to be placing a focus on work/life balance and a priority on wanting to control and flex our schedules. We both seem to want a say in how and when things get done. While the Boomers feel they have earned this flexibility, Generation Y are more likely to see it more as something to which they are entitled because they use technology to move so fast and do so much that others can’t. 

It also seems that GenY’s and Boomers are both achievement-oriented, albeit perhaps for different reasons. While Boomers are more aware of their mortality and may feel driven to leave a legacy, Generation Y was raised to be confident and believe they could be successful at whatever they set their mind to.

Just as it was with the Boomers, Gen Y’s are no strangers to change. Both cohorts have, or are, questioning authority systems and challenging the status quo. The problem for Boomers now is that we’re the ones being challenged and at risk for being labeled the dinosaurs, being past our prime, or unable to keep up.

Generation Y is probably right about that when it comes to how we view technology. 

Generation Y grew up with technology and rely on it for all aspects of their lives. Armed with iPhones, laptops, e-readers, iPads, cell phones and other techno gadgets, Generation Y is plugged-in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week generally preferring to communicate through e-mail and text messaging rather than face-to-face contact. In other words, they are children of the information age who have been immersed in technology their entire lives to find answers, change, multi-task, and learn fast.

On the other hand, Boomers see the value of too much transparency, trusting in technology beyond logic, knowing we need to balance dull work with exciting work, and working hard to do it right the first time.

While there are differences, the values shared by Boomers and Generation Y provide an important foundation for working together, particularly because they both value social connections at work, loyalty to a company, and prize other rewards of employment over money.

Hard is it may seem to believe, it could be an excellent marriage of confident, fast-moving techno-savy young-ins with the wisdom, experience, discipline, and work ethic of the elders. It won’t be mentoring as we’ve traditionally thought of it, instead it’s more likely to be mutual and multi-directional mentoring. And, if we play it right, there could be many “ah grasshopper” moments and significant learnings for all of us. 

Posted on 02-20-11


Good point, Brenda… why can’t we all just get along.  As a Gen X-er, I find myself floating between the Boomers and the Y’s so am happy that someone is trying to figure it out!  HAH!!

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  02/22/11  at  09:45 AM

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