The Boomer-Gen Y Love Fest

Forget stories about tension and misunderstandings. Y's and Boomers are finding that they enjoy spending time togetherand learning from each other

Posted on Across the Ages: April 28, 2008 2:57 PM

He sounded almost like he was sharing a guilty secret. After an executive education session in which I'd been talking about the characteristics of Generation Y's in the workplace, one of the senor executives in the audience pulled me aside. He admitted that he found himself spending a high proportion of his time these days with the Y's several levels down in his organization—and consciously avoiding the X'ers who reported directly to him!

I love spending time with the Y's! he explained. They're so energetic and enthusiastic.

And,…I smiled, they like you.

Yes, that, too.

The reality is there's a love fest underway in many corporations. Y's and Boomers are finding that they enjoy spending time together—and learning from each other.

Y's, when faced with a new challenge, tend to function like a heat-seeking missile—single-mindedly pursuing the person in the organization with the most relevant experience. In many cases, this person is a Boomer—often in some distant part of the organization, or several hierarchical levels removed. This approach reflects how Y's like to learn—from an expert, just-in-time, and in response to the specific challenge they need to address. And it reflects their comfort in relating to Boomers on a peer basis, developed over an adolescence of friendly interaction with their parents and parents' friends.

And who doesn't like to be sought out for your expertise? Especially by an eager-to-learn, admiring younger person—who may remind you of your own children? Boomers are finding they enjoy the questions (once they get over the shock of receiving emails or text messages from very junior employees) and the obvious recognition of their expertise. They are even learning a lot themselves—new ways of communicating and thinking about getting things done.

From a corporate perspective, it's smart to leverage these budding relationships. Encourage Boomer—Y mentoring and cross-mentoring, particularly the informal kind. Let them choose each other, to the extent possible, based on common interests and the relevance of the Boomer's expertise to the Y's immediate work. I call this establishing a "gift" culture—one that encourages people to give freely of their time to share learning with others. Start with role modeling this behavior from the senior most levels.

There is an important caveat to this positive trend: it can drive Gen X managers in the middle mad. Imagine being charged with "managing" all these highly-charged new Y's, only to find that they are darting around the organization, reaching out to anyone with an email address whenever they have a question—instead of following age-old corporate protocol of asking their direct boss first!

I'll talk more about Gen X managers in an upcoming post, but let me stop here and encourage you to jump into the conversation. Do you see Boomer-Y relationships forming in your organization? When and why? Are they affecting X'ers' roles and relationships?

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