Leading those who led us: GenX managers and Baby Boomer employees

I was 29 when I landed my first director-level position. I had been at my previous employer since I graduated college and now was in a new organization in an industry I knew nothing about. It was the first time I was going to be managing a budget and people. I was the youngest person on my team with the least amount of industry experience and I was the one in charge. Cue the freak-out.

That was nearly 15 years ago. In today’s workplace, career paths are rarely linear–they regularly zig, zag, stop, start and switch. The result is a workforce as diverse as it’s ever been in terms of people’s age, skills and experience.

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Think managing someone older or more experience is awkward? It doesn’t have to be.

If you’re a GenX manager, this can mean supervising Baby Boomer employees that are older and may be more experienced than yourself. That can be complicated for all involved. Maybe your employee is questioning your ability to lead based on your age or years of experience. Maybe you feel awkward giving feedback to someone who has been with your organization for decades. I sure did.

Though every person is different, there are some generational considerations to keep in mind as you interact with your Boomer employees.

Motivation

The Baby Boomer generation is a very close second to Millennials in terms of size at about 75 million people. Their sheer size bred a spirit of competition that many Boomers learned to thrive on, and which continues to serve them well in a modern workplace that favors a more collaborative approach. Boomers are also motivated by recognition—title, rank , etc. mean something to this group. They love to work hard and they work best when they feel that there is real purpose in the work they do.

GenX managers can leverage these strengths. Invite your Boomers to share their knowledge with your team, even running point on projects that play to their strengths. Asking your seasoned vets to mentor newer team members is a win-win; your less-experienced employees will benefit from additional guidance and your Boomers will feel trusted and valued.

Work style

Boomers and GenX-ers are both known for working hard, but their approaches and work styles can look pretty different. Boomers came of age in a workplace that valued seat/face time, throughput and productivity. Generation X turned that on its ear as they sought greater flexibility and work/life integration—both realized through advances in technology.

For GenX managers of Boomer employees, you may want to add a little more structure and consistency to the way you run your team. Standing meetings and regular reporting work well for this group.

Also, don’t assume that your Boomers scoff at, or even fear technology. Give your Boomer team members opportunities to get exposed to new tools and skills that can make them more efficient and effective.

Communication

Unlike Millennials, Generation Z and even some of Generation X, Baby Boomers do not require frequent feedback. In comparison to other generations, Boomer prefer infrequent, formal feedback (e.g. standing progress meetings, performance evaluations, etc.) They also prefer to communicate face-to-face as well as by phone.

Advice for GenX bosses: adjust your style. That’s not just for your Boomer employees, that’s for any member of your team. It’s your job as a leader to get the best out of your employees and set them up for success. So if that means talking on the telephone even though you’d much rather email, or having more meetings than you’d like because that’s what your people are responding to, that’s what you do.

Don’t make it weird

Boomers get it. You’re the boss. Org charts matter to this generation. They understand hierarchy. You don’t have to have an awkward conversation about age differences or years of experience. Don’t feel you have to show off or have to prove something. Just be a good boss.

Good leadership isn’t generation-specific. The characteristics of Generation X and Baby Boomers are pretty complementary, and it’s up to you as a leader to allow your team members to play to their strengths. Enjoy and encourage the diverse perspectives, knowledge and skills of your multi-generational team.

Fellow GenX managers, what’s been your experience managing Boomers? Awkward or awesome? Boomers–what’s it like on the other side of the table? Share your feedback in the comments.

One thought on “Leading those who led us: GenX managers and Baby Boomer employees

  1. Another thoughtful piece and right on the money. A good manager recognizes each team member’s life style and working style and appreciates their strengths.

    Like

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